FKAA settles lawsuit over Cudjoe sewer system

The Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority agreed to a settlement with a Lower Keys fisherman this week in his lawsuit over public records relating to plans and construction for Monroe County's wastewater treatment plant on Cudjoe Key.

The settlement, the amount of which was not disclosed at press time, comes less than a week after attorneys for the plaintiff, Mike Laudicina, accused the FKAA information technology department of providing data last June that was "intentionally manipulated."

Laudicina attorneys Caron Balkany and Christopher T. Byrd included in an Aug. 13 filing in Monroe County Circuit Court statements from former Federal Bureau of Investigation supervisory Special Agent Jon Lipsky that the FKAA provided them "data which have been falsified by intentional manipulation of data."

Lipsky is now a "private sector investigator" doing pro bono work for Balkany.

Balkany filed a public-records request for water consumption records on June 6, 2014. Lipsky wrote that the documents the FKAA gave Balkany "show evidence of intentional manipulation."

"The records which were requested were not produced," Lipsky wrote. "Instead, FKAA created PDF reports. The PDF reports reveal that someone intentionally manipulated the documents."

The FKAA would not comment on the lawsuit, but Executive Director Kirk Zuelch vehemently denied any documents released as part of the lawsuit were altered in any way.

The lawsuit, filed in March, is related to the FKAA's original decision to use shallow-water injection wells at Monroe County's Cudjoe Regional wastewater treatment plant that will treat sewage from 9,000 homes and businesses from Cudjoe Key to Big Pine Key. The estimated $185 million system is still under construction.

The county decided in April to build a deep-water injection well in March at the Cudjoe plant, but the plant could come online before the $6 million well is dug.

Shallow-water wells would disperse treated effluent into base rock about 120 feet down. A deepwater well may go more than 2,000 feet into the rock.

Balkany said the main thrust of the settlement is that FKAA will cover Laudicina's legal costs.

She said the "issue of the falsification of the documents is something that must be taken up outside this particular type of lawsuit anyway, and I understand that is underway."

Asked if this meant some law enforcement agency was looking into the matter, Balkany said, "Nothing definite yet."

"I have not personally given the information to anyone like the State Attorney's Office but I am aware that others are doing so or have already done so," she said in an Aug. 17 e-mail.

State Attorney Catherine Vogel said in an e-mail this week: "We have not heard anything about this."