County team to continue outreach to Casey Key homeowners

Effort under way to inform residents about watermain project

North Casey Key Road is visible in a satellite image from Google Maps.

Members of the project team involved in the replacement of the watermain between south Siesta Key and north Casey Key were able to find only eight of 43 homeowners when they went door-to-door Aug. 17 to provide more details about the project, Sarasota County’s interim utilities manager reported to the County Commission Aug. 20.

Lori Ann Carroll provided the update during the commission’s budget workshop.

Carroll had notified the board through email Aug. 16 that three residents on Casey Key were threatening to block access to North Casey Key Road unless the contractor for the watermain project paid them cash “in the event of any damage to their property.”

The threat came in spite of the fact that the contractor has a certificate of liability, county records show. That certificate had to be produced before the firm could be awarded the project.

Carroll told The Sarasota News Leader in an interview on Aug. 16 that the worst-case scenario would entail the project team having to call the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office to deal with homeowners trying to stop the contractor from working. However, she said she hoped the situation could be resolved amicably.

Referring to the outreach efforts, Carroll told the commissioners Aug. 20 that the project team members would try again to contact homeowners on Aug. 24.

The area they are focusing on, she added, is north of Blackburn Point Road.

Commissioner Nora Patterson told Carroll, “I will bet you over 80% of the people [who live on the north end of Casey Key] are not there at this time of year.”

“We found that out last Friday,” Carroll responded.

Material the team had put together for the homeowners included a request to let county officials know how the homeowners preferred to be contacted about any project matters — by phone, by an email blast or by regular mail, Carroll said.

“If something changes on that project, we always can use reverse 911 to notify people,” she added.

The contractor for the $1,133,622.95 project, Arrow Directional Boring of Fort Lauderdale, was “pretty much waiting till the last possible minute to deliver pipe,” Carroll said, to try do reduce the amount of disruption to homeowners along the narrow North Casey Key Road.

That pipe is to be delivered in mid-September, she said. It should take about four weeks for the work to be completed, she added, barring significant weather delays.

According to the contract, she said, the project has to be completed by Nov. 23.

A June 5 staff memo to the County Commission pointed out that the pipeline was installed across Little Sarasota Bay in the early 1970s. A leak first was detected in the pipe in 1996; it was repaired but “new leaks have occurred with increasing frequency,” the memo said.

In the Aug. 16 email to County Administrator Randall Reid, which she asked him to pass along to the commissioners, Carroll added of the project, “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).”

Project team members also had met on Aug. 15 with representatives of the North Casey Key Association, including Vice President Robert Gunther, Carroll told the commission on Aug. 20.

“They do have some questions,” she said, “and we told them we would follow up in an email.”

First, she said, the team needed to consult with the County Attorney’s Office on some of the questions, which focused on insurance.

Of the remaining four or five issues they had asked to be resolved, she said, “None of ’em are deal-breakers. … They learned a lot more about the project and the need for it” during the meeting, Carroll added.

In a July 27 email to the project manager, Seton Katz, Gunther wrote, “While I recognize the laudable goals of the project I have requested and been assured that there will be a pre-construction meeting for the residents living on the private, individually owned sections of the road which provides the sole access for the landowners on North Casey Key.”

At that time, he added, “… the majority of owners of property you and your contractors intend to cross still have concerns and questions regarding the scope of your activities, the adequacy of your Contractor’s insurance coverage, and, more particularly, their own attendant liabilities.”

Work scheduled on swing bridge

On a related note, during the Aug. 20 workshop, Commissioner Jon Thaxton asked about the coming closure of the Blackburn Point Road bridge. He had seen a sign alerting drivers that work was scheduled on the swing bridge, he added.

He was concerned, he added, as that bridge also provides access to north Casey Key.

James Harriott Jr., director of the county’s Public Works Department, reported later that day that the bridge would be closed Aug. 27 through Aug. 29 between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The drive gear had to be replaced, Harriott said.

“Right now, it’s kind of pinched together with a couple of pieces of iron and bolted down the best we could get it, but it keeps slipping and failing,” he told the commissioners.  “So we need to replace that.”