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Key Largo sewer board: Talks with Islamorada over

The long-anticipated wastewater agreement between Islamorada and the taxing district that oversees Key Largo's sewer system appears dead.

The Key Largo Wastewater Treatment District's board of commissioners voted 3-1 Monday to end negotiations with Islamorada on a deal that would see Key Largo treating the village's wastewater at the district's sewage plant at mile marker 100.2 instead of Islamorada building its own treatment plants.

Any potential deal is off for now because commissioners Susan Hammaker, Norm Higgins and Charles Brooks are angry at a counteroffer introduced by the Village Council earlier this month to pay Key Largo $3.5 million over 10 years as initial payment for treating Islamorada's wastewater.

Key Largo wants $11.5 million up front.

Under either scenario, after pipes were installed, Islamorada customers, just like in Key Largo, would pay a monthly fee.

Islamorada Mayor Michael Reckwerdt, who came up with the counteroffer, could not be reached for comment by press time Tuesday afternoon.

"Shame on you, Islamorada," Higgins said at the end of Monday's meeting, which was called to discuss the negotiations.

Wastewater Treatment District board Vice Chairman Andy Tobin voted against ending the negotiations. He maintains an agreement is the best option for both parties. It would help Key Largo pay for its $30 million treatment plant and would save Islamorada the long-term costs of operating its own treatment plants, he has said.

Tobin asked the other commissioners not to end discussions with Islamorada staff just because they are upset at the counteroffer and tough talk coming from Islamorada's five councilmen.

"I purposefully don't listen to tapes of [the Village Council's meetings] or go to the meetings because I don't want to be upset at their comments.... We shouldn't be insulted by them trying to make a better deal," Tobin said.

Chairman Robert Majeska was not at the meeting, but sent a letter to his colleagues urging them to vote against Islamorada's counteroffer.

Hammaker said she was "desperately disappointed" at the village's June 3 counteroffer, which came about a year after Key Largo informed Islamorada officials that the $11.5 million is needed to treat the extra capacity that would result from the agreement. The cost would go up to $13 million if the village disconnects its treatment plant on North Plantation Key.

Hammaker is a longtime proponent of sharing wastewater treatment with Islamorada because of its potential to help both areas cost-effectively meet the state mandate to build centralized wastewater systems throughout the Keys.

She said the deal was ultimately killed because Reckwerdt and his four colleagues on the Village Council arbitrarily picked too low of a number to counter Key Largo's offer.

"I don't usually swear, but it's a damn shame," Hammaker said. "They better start doing their homework instead of taking wild guesses."

Commissioner Charles Brooks, who has always been against the interlocal agreement, said he was so angry at the village's counteroffer that he wanted Key Largo's official response to be worded to ensure the issue couldn't be brought up again.

With the exception of building the North Plantation Key treatment plant, Islamorada has not begun trying to build its system, which the state Cabinet has decided must be completed by December 2015.

Key Largo is in the final stages of having all its homes and businesses connected to its system.

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