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UEP committee: North Cape needs potable water now; Installation years away

By Staff | May 23, 2008

Saltwater intrusion, possible groundwater contamination and dried up wells in the north section of Cape Coral are good reasons to expedite potable water service to areas that will not receive utilities in the near future, a citizen’s committee determined Thursday.

In a 7-1 vote, the committee recommended that the City Council closely examine the possibility of bringing potable water to the North 4 expansion area and all the areas beyond that. Those areas would likely not have city water, sewer and irrigation lines installed for more than five years, but many citizens in the area are complaining about their current drinking water situation.

“The water is eating up their appliances, it can’t wash your car, it smells,” said chairman Gordon Ultsch, who lives in the northwest section of the city. “I’d love (city water) because my water system is horrible.”

The idea of bringing potable water to areas of the city north of Pine Island Road has been long advocated by Councilmember Tim Day. He has called for an accelerated water-only expansion to the entire north Cape, but the committee settled on doing so for areas that will not receive utilities for a number of years.

Several members of the committee argued that immediately expanding only potable water lines to segments of the city scheduled to receive all three utility lines would make little sense.

“I don’t want someone to get an assessment and have their streets torn up three years apart,” said committee member Jack Schrager, adding that homeowners would be saddled with two different assessment and impact fee bills as well.

Several weeks ago the committee agreed that the entire city should eventually be on water, sewer and irrigation, but it was widely split about the time frame. Instead of trying to debate the issue, the group simply decided to remain vague and called for the lines to be installed “eventually.”

Resident Karie Rathbun, who attended the meeting, said the city should not consider bringing water only first because it could lead to an overall higher cost of bringing utilities to the area.

“What we don’t want to do is have the homeowner pay twice,” she said, adding that she backs expanding all three lines to the region.

The committee also unanimously agreed to ask the Public Works Department and contract manager MWH to figure out the feasibility of quickly expanding sewer lines in the northwest section of the city, especially for homes and other developments near the spreader system.

Committee members targeted bumping up the priority of the section of the city west of Burnt Store Road north to Gator Slough. Further north of the slough, the committee zeroed in on development west of Old Burnt Store Road.

“That’s where all the growth was going (during the boom),” Ultsch said. “The north was going like crazy.”

Expanding sewer lines in that area would allow for additional commercial growth along the major arterials and head off complaints from the county or state that the development is polluting the spreader and Matlacha Pass.

After agreeing to stick with the contract manager at risk methodology at a previous meeting, the committee unanimously agreed to explore ways to bring down the “soft costs” of the utility project by scrutinizing the work authorizations.

Committee member Angelo Montemarano said the assessments for Southwest 6/7, which will be made public in about two weeks, should be lower than the Southwest 5 area because of the drop in hard costs. He added that the city should target the various fees and overhead that the contract manager adds to try and bring the price down further.

The committee is also all but abandoning the idea of switching from a gravity sewer system. While its members agreed to listen to a presentation from a private firm about the merits and cost of a vacuum system, Schrager said that, based on the data he compiled, there is simply no major cost difference.

“We are not going to do any more investigation unless more credible information is presented to us,” he said.

Committee member and former mayor Arnold Kempe pointed out that Schrager’s conclusion does not close the book on the subject. He added that he wants more information before making a final call.

“My own judgment is that gravity is right,” he said. “I’m inclined to agree with you, but I don’t want to shut the door.”