"I got the shaft, like a weapon thrown at me," is the way Ralph Hemingway explained a meeting he had called for with the Florida Governmental Utility Authority (FGUA) last week in which he said he had expected to get the results of a study of water lines, the sizes of the pipes, a study of the whole system, including sizes of lines and the amount of pressure from fire hydrants in Lehigh.
"But we didn't get what we asked for," Hemingway said. "I am going to take this to the main board at the next meeting of FGUA, with headquarters in Longwood, Fla., when we do a teleconference meeting from the office in Lehigh," he said.
Hemingway is the chairman of the Advisory Board to the FGUA from Lehigh Acres. There are about five people on the advisory board and they have interests, Hemingway said, like his and want to know numbers and the size of pipe lines in the FGUA system and to the fire hydrants in the older areas of the community.
The meeting was held at the East Water Control District in its conference room on Oct. 16 and about 30 people showed up including officials from an engineering firm representing FGUA and officials from the water utilities firm itself, and Cathy Ebaugh, the principal planner for the Lehigh Land Use Plan for Lehigh Acres.
"We also had Fire Chief John Wayne and Assistant Chief Kenneth Bennett and we didn't get the answers we wanted," Hemingway said.
"We wanted those numbers for future planning in Lehigh and to find problems and try to come up with solutions, especially in areas where fire hydrants don't have enough water pressure to put out a fire," Hemingway said.
Robert Anderson, a resident of Lehigh off of Alabama Road, said properties in his neighborhood have fire hydrants and they are not able to pump out enough water to save a house from burning down.
"This is the kind of information we needed and they didn't provide it," Hemingway said.
Hemingway said members of ^Lehigh's Economic Board headed up by Jere Carrick and its 30 members also want and need the information for development and what to be able to say to firms that may want to locate businesses in Lehigh.
"Would you want to build a commercial establishment in an area of Gunnery Road, where there is no access to water and sewer? I don't think so," Hemingway said after the meeting.
Jerry Connolly, the operations manager for an engineering firm for FGUA had prepared a Power Point presentation of the complete system that FGUA serves in Lehigh. It showed the lines extending from western Lehigh where the industrial park is located all the way to the Mirror Lakes and south. But that didn't satisfy Hemingway, who wanted more information that was provided.
Hemingway, who asked for the meeting, said he was also disappointed in the number of people that attended.
"We have anything from four, eight, and twelve-inch lines throughout the system. The smaller the lines, when connected to fire hydrants, causes problems because we can't pump enough water. The lines do not reflect the national standards.
"Last year or before, we had a bad fire in the industrial park and we didn't have enough water pressure. We coudn't save the business because of the lack of water," Hemingway said. Fire Chief John Wayne agreed and said, "we didn't have enough water and pressure."
At the time, Hemingway was a member of the board of commissioners with the Lehigh Acres Fire and Rescue District. He has served on that board on different occasions, totaling about 10 years.
As for FGUA, there is a capital improvement plan that includes a one-year project to rehabilitate the water treatment infrastructure with the aim of improving water quality in the system. And according to reports from FGUA, the Lehigh Acres Water Treatment Plant No. 1 has been worked on for a six-month period and it included installing refurbished water treatment units and additional equipment at the plant. The project also called for the installation of new chemical feed pumps, refurbished sand filters, and the addition of a Ph adjustment system to allow for enhanced removal of color in the water. The project coincided with the conversion of an existing plant in a booster station to help maintain pressure in the system
The improvements were scheduled to be completed last December.
In addition to the improvements to Water Treatment Plant No 1, Treatment Plant No. 2, in addition to the improvements to water treatment plant No. 1, the No. 2 plant is being converted into a booster station to help maintain adequate pressures in the system while producing all the system's water needs from water treatment Plant No. 1, according to FGU A reports.
Officials said Water Treatment Plant No. 2 will be transitioned back to a treatment facility and expanded in the future when the system's water demand exceeds the capacity of water treatment Plant No. 1. The booster station conversion project was scheduled to be completed last year.
During the meeting, a project manager representing FGUA said there were 135 miles of piping with two and eight-inch sizes in Lehigh.
Hemingway at the meeting raised the issue of the proposed widening of Homestead Rd. from Alabama Rd. to Sunrise Rd., saying that the road shouldn't be built until "we know the size of the water line underneath because if will have to be enlarged and then the roadway would have to be torn up and that doesn't make any sense, he said.
Hemingway noted that the lines in what he called Indian Village off of Alabama Rd., because of its Indian named streets, said lines into those neighborhoods are only four-inch lines and would be inadequate for fighting fires due to the low pressure of the outflow of the water from hydrants.
"We are talking about these lines going back to 25 and 30 years;, they are old and they may be corroded and the size of the lines have to be made larger," Hemingway said at the meeting.
Cathy Ebaugh, the principal planner for the county's Dept. of Planning for Lehigh, told Hemingway that before Homestead Rd. could be widened, there would have to be a future needs study including the size of the water lines.
"You should be looking at eight-inch lines, not six-inch lines for fire hydrants for the future development," Hemingway told FGUA officials.
"We need to know what is needed, and we don't know the inches of the lines throughout Lehigh," he said.
He called the industrial park on the western end of Lehigh a "bread winner" for Lehigh and said the lines to that area are not adequate. "It would provide a good tax base if the community becomes incorporated."
While off the subject at hand, Ebaugh noted that there are 125,000 platted lots in Lehigh and that the area of Lehigh is larger than Orlando and larger than Miami.
Homes that are not on lines for water and or sewer, have their own wells and septic systems and Hemingway wondered what will happen with the environmental people see a serious problem in Lehigh with water from the septic systems seeping into the underground water supply.
However, there are no plans to extend the lines at the present time, Connolly said.
Hemingway said after the meeting that he didn't think FGUA really wants to improve the Lehigh system from what it is now.
He said that it was his understanding that the Fort Myers water system was interested in purchasing the Lehigh system, but only after several improvements were made.
Hemingway noted that a commercial establishment, believed to be a dollar store, was being built on Gunnery Rd. South.
"Although the lines goes out on Gunnery, it is not enough and this new commercial establishment must pay to have the line extended to their store," he said.
"We need to have the proper size lines extended down Gunnery Rd. to SR82. Gunnery Road is zoned for commercial use and it is a good place to build, but most developers are going to want water and sewer lines they can tap into," he said.
Hemingway is a retired insurance executive and has lived in Lehigh for 18 years and has has been associated with the water system in Lehigh back to when it was owned by Florida Water. He has served on advisory boards for that company and for FGUA when it was purchased by the state.
"One thing to remember, the more hydrants we get will mean cheaper insurance for homes that are near them," Hemingway said.
He said he would call for another study to provide the information about the size of all lines and the size to all connections to fire hydrants. I will bring that up at the next FGUA board meeting when we meeting next month," he said.