Casey Key residents threaten to block access to road for watermain project

A Sarasota County illustration shows the route of the existing watermain line between Siesta and Casey keys and the route for the new line.

Three residents on Casey Key have indicated they will block access to the North Casey Key Road for a watermain project unless the contractor meets demands they have made, Sarasota County’s interim utilities program manager notified County Administrator Randall Reid today, Aug. 16.

In an email she asked Reid to forward to the county commissioners, Lori Ann Carroll wrote that most residents are in support of the project, which is designed to replace an aging and leaking watermain line between south Siesta Key and Casey Key.

However, she wrote, three residents — whom she did not identify — had demanded cash from the contractor, “in the event of any damage to their property.”

She added, “County staff has explained there are contract requirements to protect the property owner from damage by the contractor. County staff has worked extensively with [the Real Property and Legal departments] to ensure utility easements exist, which allow ingress and egress rights to maintain the utilities. In addition to easement rights, the county has prescriptive rights to maintain utilities.”

As required by the county, the contractor, Arrow Directional Boring of Fort Lauderdale, had to provide the county a certificate of liability insurance before it could be awarded the project. That certificate was part of the package submitted to the County Commission prior to its unanimous vote on June 5 to approve the $1,133,622.95 contract with Arrow.

In an interview with The Sarasota News Leader on Aug. 16, Carroll said that if residents blocked access to the North Casey Key Road, “I think we have no choice but to call the Sheriff’s Office. We don’t want our contractor to get harmed; we don’t want our county employees to get harmed.”

Referring to the watermain, Carroll told the News Leader on Aug. 16, “It’s critical infrastructure.”

A staff memo submitted to the commissioners prior to their vote noted that the existing watermain line, which was installed across the bay in the early 1970s, “is failing and needs to be replaced.” It added that a leak first was detected in the line in 1996. Although that leak was repaired, the memo said, “new leaks have occurred with increasing frequency.”

In the email to Reid, Carroll wrote of the pipeline, “This ‘interconnect’ boosts water pressure and improves water quality and fire flow availability on both Keys. The proposed project replaces this critical infrastructure in the most economical, least disruptive and environmentally feasible manner, by taking a direct route from the nearest points and using the construction technique known as Horizontal Directional Drill (HDD).”

During discussion of the project on June 5, Commissioner Nora Patterson, who lives on Siesta Key, said the pipeline “was a long time coming.” She thanked staff members for their hard work on the project.

In a phone interview with the News Leader on the afternoon of Aug. 16, Patterson — who was out of town on vacation — said she was not sure what concerns the homeowners had. In terms of liability, she added, “I think the county is totally responsible to them if something happened. I think they’ll be protected.”

Still, Patterson said, she did not in any way want to downplay the homeowners’ concerns. “I hope the county can move ahead [with the project] in a timely way and that their concerns will be allayed,” she said.

“The project really does need to happen,” Patterson said, adding that its completion will ensure north Casey Key residents can count on a steady, safe water supply.

“Barring rain delays or other legitimate reasons,” Carroll wrote in the Aug. 16 email, the project should be substantially completed on Nov. 23.

Outreach to residents

Carroll told the News Leader that county staff would begin going door-to-door on Casey Key north of Blackburn Point Road on Friday, Aug. 17, with flyers explaining the construction plans.

Additionally, she said, staff had met with two members of the Casey Key Association on Aug. 15. “I think that was really helpful,” she added.

During the June 5 County Commission discussion, Patterson had asked that county staff meet with the homeowners who would be affected by the truck traffic associated with the project. Greg Rouse, design manager in the Public Works Department, said staff planned to do that.

In her email, Carroll also wrote, “County staff and the contractor have visited the site on north Casey Key several times and are very aware of the tight configuration of the narrow road, large vehicles for pipe delivery, and the pipe to be staged along the pipe route.”

A county inspector will be on site with a video camera to record existing conditions on north Casey Key before the project begins and to record every step of the construction process, Carroll told the News Leader. That is normal county procedure, she added.

On June 3, Patterson emailed county staff, saying a Casey Key representative had asked her whether heavy equipment would be on the north road and for how long.

In response, Rouse explained that the “open cut work” for the directional boring would be “within the cul-de-sac at the end of North Casey Key Road” and along author Stephen King’s property, directly adjacent to the cul-de-sac. The drill rig, Rouse added, would be located at The Pointe condominium complex on south Siesta Key. Further, he wrote, “Some heavier equipment along the road will be present during construction. … There may be some temporary lane closures but access for local residents, postal or delivery trucks, garbage trucks, and emergency vehicles will be maintained.”

In her Aug. 16 email, Carroll wrote that the contractor was delaying delivery of the pipe for as long as possible, “to avoid disruption to the citizens on north Casey Key.”

Planning details

She added that the delivery of the pipe tentatively was scheduled for mid-September.

Carroll added, “About 5 trailer loads of material will traverse N. Casey Key Rd, along with various support vehicles. For several days immediately prior to installation, the pipe will be ‘welded’ into a seamless ‘string’ approximately 1,400 [feet] long along the northern end of N. Casey Key Rd. This pipe may be along the side of the road for several days, prior to being ‘pulled’ into the hole created by the [horizontal directional drill] machine. The total duration of disruption on N. Casey will be approximately 3–4 weeks.”