Sewer district buys $3 million liability insurance

Sewer district buys $3 million liability insurance

Source:, February 4, 2011
By: Gary Phillips

Key Largo wastewater commissioners are buying insurance to protect the sewer agency in case of a pollution spill that could be costly to clean up, or lawsuits over things like odor from the wastewater facility.

Debbie MacAfee of insurance company T.R. Jones and Co. told the commissioners that buying insurance policies is standard practice for public utilities.

“This is a policy of coverage you really need for so many reasons,” she said. “So many things can go wrong at a wastewater site.”

McAfee told the board a lawsuit had been filed against the City of Chattanooga, Tenn., in Nov. 2010 over odor from a sewage plant. She said an insurance policy would help pay for defending against lawsuits and more.

“You can be sued for anything and you have to pay for defense,” she said. “This pollution liability policy I propose to you is going to give you defense coverage and it’s going to give you cleanup coverage.”

T.R. Jones and Co. offered two options to the district. The first provides $3 million coverage at a cost of $13,000 per year, or just less than $23,000 for three years. The second option offers $5 million of coverage for an annual premium of $16,500 or a three-year premium of $29, 500.

Commissioner Norman Higgins said, “It’s a no brainer. We have to have insurance. If something were to go wrong, what would it cost us? For $7,000 a year it protects us in a big way.”

Commissioners agreed the purchase of pollution insurance is a wise move, except for Commissioner Charles Brooks. He said, “I am not for this. I said that at the last meeting and I won’t vote for it.”

Wastewater district attorney Tom Dillon told the board he had reviewed the policy and approved it.

“The coverage is fairly comprehensive for pollution legal liability,” he said. “Our sovereign immunity would not protect us against many of those claims under federal law.”

McAfee said the policy covers only the treatment plant and vacuum pumping stations, plus the transportation of sludge, but does not cover transmission pipelines.

The board voted to buy $3 million in coverage for three years. Brooks cast the only “no” vote.

Sewer plan change

Several Tavernier homeowners are asking the wastewater district to revise plans so the main sewer lines will be installed in “alleys” behind their homes rather than along the streets their homes face in the neighborhood along and near Dickie Way, near mile marker 92, bayside.

They say doing so would save them money, because their septic tanks are behind their homes and connecting to a sewer line in the alley would be less costly.

Monroe County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, who lives in the area, spoke on behalf of the residents at the wastewater board’s Tuesday meeting.

“We thought months ago that this would be easier and less expensive for the district, to just go up the alleys because they wouldn’t have to worry about repaving and traffic,” she said. “It would be a lot less expensive for the residents because we all have our septic tanks and drain fields toward the rear of our property.”

Wastewater district General Manager Chuck Fishburn said one factor that residents had not thought of is the space required to operate trenchers to install sewer lines. Fences, sheds and garages near the alleyways could be jeopardized by the operation, he said.

Fishburn said redesigning the project and installing the sewer line in the alleys would cost approximately $20,000.

Commissioners said they needed more information before deciding and tabled the issue until Feb. 15.

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