OUA and Aldi negotiate cost of moving sewer line

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee Utility Authority heard a proposal from Aldi US, rejected it, and made one of their own in an attempt to resolve the dilemma of an unwanted sewer line under the proposed site for a new grocery store.

The OUA rejected an offer of $14,000 from Aldi and the owner of the building, B and B Site Holdings. This amounts to 20 percent of the estimated cost of removal of the sewer line. Instead they suggested the companies pay 75 percent and the OUA 25 percent. The grocer could pay $52,500 over five years with no interest.

The sewer line and the building were first built in 1962. The building owner suggested that now is a good time to remove the line because they are renovating the building. A consultant was brought in to determine the health of the line. OUA Executive Director John Hayford maintains the line is old but is not failing and could last five to 15 more years.

“It is not perfect and it shows its age but I saw no evidence or cracking or sand,” he told the Utility Board.

Three contractors sent in quotes for doing the work that ranged from $70,000 from B&B Site Development to a high of $135,000.

Board member Tommy Clay was against spending OUA money on this problem.

“The building was built on an existing line,” he said. “It was a conscious decision to do that. I don’t see where it’s the OUA’s problem. The Beaver Trust should have moved the line when the building was built.”

The problem most debated was whether now was the time to replace the line rather than risk its failure and a disruption of the business in the future.

The building owner also maintains the sewer line serves many businesses in the area of 330 South Parrott Avenue and replacing it would also increase the flow and thus improve the service the OUA provides.

A motion by board member Harry Moldenhauer to approve the proposal died due to a lack of a second. He said the costs of replacement will only increase into the future.

“Now might be the right time and there is some participation,” he said.

OUA Chairman Steve Nelson compared the situation to sitting between a rock and a hard place. He said no matter the decision, the utility will be perceived as the bad guy by the public.

Mr. Hayford said he thought the utility would be better off doing the project now than waiting until there is a problem later.

“I see the plusses and minuses of both decisions,” he said.

Mr. Nelson said the utility is always hammered for putting costs onto rate payers.

Aldi would like to open the store in mid-July.

Board member Tommy Hoover said developers like this consider relocation of utilities as an expense and factor it into their costs. “I’d be embarrassed to come in here and ask our small amount of rate payers to pay to fix a line under their building. They will be taking millions of dollars out of our community,” he said.

City Administrator Marcos Montes De Oca said Aldi will move forward with the project.

In other actions, the board voted to require all Pine Ridge Park residents pay capital charges and fees of $646.62 to join the OUA water system. The new customers can opt to pay the fees up front or take up to 10 years to pay.  The OUA took over the system after a court receivership ruling.

The OUA also approved their participation in a $750,000 Community Development Block Grant to add water lines in Whispering Pines. The county will require mandatory connection for residents in the affected area.

Low and moderate income families that qualify, can connect for free.

The OUA board also approved the installation of six fire hydrants on North West 10th Avenue and North West 36th Street at the cost of $79,522.
The board also discussed a change in the employee pension plan which now is joined with the City of Okeechobee pension plan. The City Council is expected to discuss the issue on April 19. There are 76 participants in the plan and 51 of them are OUA employees. The plan is in a good financial position. The OUA contributes $361,000 and the City of Okeechobee $44,690 annually to the plan.

Under Florida law, the city as the sponsor has ultimate responsibility and decision making powers for the pension plan.

The OUA has three members on the Pension Board. Jamie Mullis said there have been very few disagreements and the city council has always approved the recommendations they make. The OUA could opt to join the Florida retirement city, but that would limit their influence on the plan. It is also an irrevocable decision.

City Councilman Dowling Watford said he was unaware there were any problems. He said the issue of control is something that people always fight over. “I think the city plan is wonderful and a lot better than most plans. I would encourage you to drop this (idea).”

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