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Post office says it’s exempt from sewer mandate

Key Largo sewer district imposes fee on federal property

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gphillips@keysreporter

Posted - Friday, January 15, 2010 10:00 AM EST

The U.S. Postal Service is telling the Key Largo sewer district that the local post office is exempt from hooking up to the island’s wastewater system.

The sewer district disagrees.

According to a postal service attorney, being part of a federal agency excludes the post office from local sewer district mandates.

The disagreement began when the Monroe County Tax Collector sent the postal service an invoice for $1,161.25 for a Key Largo Wastewater District assessment.

USPS Facilities Contract Technician Donna Kemp sent tax collector Danise D. Henriquez a letter saying the Key Largo post office is federally owned property and therefore immune from all state and local taxation. She cited several previous court decisions on similar issues.

The letter also said any further questions should be directed to USPS attorney Carrie M. Branson.

Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District attorney Thomas M. Dillon wrote to Branson, quoting a portion of the Clean Water Act that states that federal agencies that discharge pollutants “shall...comply with all federal, state, interstate and local requirements...including the payment of reasonable service charges.”

Dillon also said the district’s “non-ad valorem” assessment is not a tax, and Congress has waived any exemption from such fees under the Clean Water Act.

In a letter of response, Branson said the Key Largo post office poses no environmental threat.

“There is no indication that the current septic system has resulted or is likely to result in the discharge or runoff of pollutants. Neither has it been established that any waters of the United States are at issue,” Branson wrote.

The letter also said the post office is exempt from paying service charges like the assessment the sewer district imposes on commercial and residential properties to pay for the sewer system.

Dillon said the wastewater district will stand firm on its position regarding the post office, and he expects the postal service to do the same.

Bidding issue

In other action, the district’s commissioners discussed bidding procedures at the board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12, after one commissioner questioned construction contracts being awarded without bids.

Commissioners agreed that the fairest way to deal with contractors installing the separate phases of the islandwide project is to accept bids and consider the lowest bids for approval, while still maintaining quality standards for the work.

In some instances, the board has approved “change orders” rather than going through the bid process, awarding work to a contractor even if its bid is not the absolute lowest.

Officials said there have been various reasons for using change orders, such as timeliness or when a contractor is already doing work in a particular area and having them continue into the next phase makes the most sense. Contactors who have a proven reputation for quick and efficient work may also be given special consideration.

The board agreed that change orders will almost surely be granted in the future, but a close examination of the reasons is in the best interest of the district and residents.

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