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Longboat Key Wednesday, Jun. 10, 2009 10 years ago

Backflow deadline looms

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

After more than two years, several water-pressure problems and two extended deadlines, the town’s controversial backflow-prevention ordinance implementation deadline is set for Tuesday, June 30.

Or is it?

After learning that approximately 331 town water users have yet to install a backflow-prevention device before the deadline, Mayor Lee Rothenberg requested that the ordinance be discussed at the Town Commission’s 2 p.m. Thursday, June 18 regular workshop.

“We need to look at how many still need to be done, what their circumstances are and collectively decide what to do about it,” Rothenberg said.

Rothenberg made the request at the Monday, June 1 regular meeting, after Commissioner Peter O’Connor suggested that a certified letter sent out to non-compliant water users was “rather threatening.”

The letter warns water customers that if a backflow-prevention device isn’t installed by the end of the month, the town may shut off their water after 14 days.

Said O’Connor: “I implore the town manager that before we implement the actions of this ordinance, we be absolutely certain our data is correct.”

The Longboat Observer
obtained a list of the non-compliant water users. Nine homeowners and business owners out of 17 who were contacted by The Observer said they were either in the process of installing a backflow-prevention device or already had one installed.

Although some of the data on the list is incorrect, Public Works Director Juan Florensa said there’s a good reason for it.

“Some residents pulled permits for backflows months ago, but their plumber never turned in a completion of work certification form to the Planning, Zoning and Building Department,” Florensa said. “We are finding that there may be less people in non-compliance than we originally thought, and that’s a good thing.”

Despite the decrease in non-compliance, some commissioners are concerned about the strict requirements of the ordinance, especially at a time when many Key residents have left for the summer months.

The Town Commission unanimously agreed to extend the ordinance deadline to June 30 after hearing in December that 1,141 water users had yet to install one or more backflow-prevention devices on their property.

The controversial ordinance — which has been under review and discussed since 2007 before being approved last year — will implement a routine control system Key-wide to detect and manage water cross-connections and prevent the backflow of contaminants into the town’s water system.

The ordinance, created to comply with federal and state health department standards, calls for all town water users who don’t have a backflow-prevention device to install one or face fines of up to $250 per day.

But the commission agreed to change the fine from $250 per day to $50 per day last year after staff reported that a water user could easily accrue $3,500 in 14 days before the town could shut the water off.

But, although the fines have been reduced, shutting the water off to vacant homes is still allowed.

“The danger could be that some of these people are gone for the summer, and they will come back to brown lawns,” O’Connor said.

Florensa, however, said certified letters were sent to the properties in question and the address on record for each property owner.

Florensa also said that at the end of the month, his staff would be visiting each home to confirm whether a backflow-prevention device is in place.

“We will make every effort to help property owners comply before starting the clock for fines and water shutoffs,” Florensa said. “We are doing our best to help every resident and business owner.”

Residents and business owners can also ask for personal extensions, as long as they are making an effort to comply with the ordinance.

Don Roberts, owner of The Centre Shops, and Howard Rooks, owner of Avenue of the Flowers Town Plaza II, were glad to hear that.

Both business owners are still getting quotes for multiple backflow-prevention devices that are needed on their properties.

“I have to come up with more than $3,000 worth of backflows for The Centre Shops,” said Roberts, who said a jackhammer will have to break up one of his concrete sidewalks to perform the work. “It’s an unexpected expense in a tough economic climate.”

Despite the issues that remain as the deadline approaches, Commissioner George Spoll hopes that the deadline is not extended for a third time.

“I got a lot of criticism from people who installed backflows and didn’t like that we gave out extensions,” Spoll said. “If we keep extending this, we will lose credibility.”

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