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Seven Hills sues over water supply

The lawsuit says Florida Water Services isn't providing enough water for the subdivision.

By JAMIE JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 7, 2003


SPRING HILL -- Seven Hills Inc. has filed a lawsuit against Florida Water Services, alleging that the company is not providing enough water for the development.

Some people have purchased homes in Seven Hills but cannot move in because they have no water service, the lawsuit says. Seven Hills is about half built, and the rest of the development has no future without water, developers said.

"We would like to see Florida Water Services fulfill their obligations," said Lew Friedland, developer of Seven Hills. The suit asks for more than $2.7-million in damages.

Attorney Joe Mason, who represents Florida Water Services, said the situation is not the company's fault. He said Florida Water has been hindered by county officials who have repeatedly refused to approve additional wells.

He thinks Seven Hills and Florida Water should work together rather than fight.

"I just don't know what they intend to resolve," Mason said. "It's a shame."

Assistant County Attorney Kent Weissinger balked at Mason's claims.

He said Florida Water should quit blaming the county because it cannot provide good service to customers.

"Florida Water has failed to adequately plan for growth in that area," he said.

Seven Hills developers said they filed the lawsuit as a last resort.

Friedland could not say exactly how many new homes have been affected by a lack of water. At least three nonresidential buildings are under construction with no promise of water service, according to the lawsuit.

Other developers have signed contracts with Seven Hills, and those contracts are in jeopardy without water service, the lawsuit says.

"Their value and continued marketability are, as a practical matter, rendered nonexistent," Merritt Island attorney Julie J. Fitzpatrick-Holmes wrote in the complaint.

Fitzpatrick-Holmes said Seven Hills has gone out of its way to accommodate Florida Water. The development has spent more than $2.7-million on infrastructure to connect to the company's water lines, according to the lawsuit.

Additionally, the development offered Florida Water a free site for a ground storage system, but the company did nothing, the lawsuit says.

Mason said the storage system would not have helped. The company needs more water and more wells, he said.

Four proposals for well sites have been rejected by county commissioners in five years, Mason said.

"There simply isn't enough water in the lines," he said.

Friedland said he has been happy with Florida Water's service in the past. And he knows the company has had its problems with Hernando County.

However, Florida Water has failed to doggedly pursue other options and continues to breach its contract, the lawsuit says.

"There is an actual, present and immediate need," the lawsuit says.

Florida Water, which serves about 33,000 customers in Hernando County, has 19 water supply wells, and the last was drilled in 1996. Since then, the population of Spring Hill has increased by almost 19 percent. During that same period, the average monthly output of the utility has increased more than 32 percent.

Strain on the system has materialized in several ways.

The state Department of Environmental Protection last year denied an application by developers of the Wellington subdivision, part of Seven Hills, in which they sought to connect to Florida Water lines. The DEP feared that the system could not handle additional customers.

Friedland said Wellington is one of the areas in Seven Hills most affected by the lack of water.

Residents in Seven Hills already are complaining of poor water pressure, saying it takes nine to 15 minutes for their toilets to refill after flushing.

"The water just trickles out," said Anne Hammond, who has lived in Wellington for about three years.

Friedland said he just wants the problem fixed and hopes Florida Water can come up with a solution.

"We need to be assured that we will have continuous water service for Seven Hills," he said.

Florida Water is already involved in several legal battles as the utility tries to finalize its sale to two Panhandle towns. On New Year's Eve, the company filed lawsuits against Hernando and Citrus counties, saying the governments improperly spent regulatory fees that the utility paid.

-- Staff writer Will Van Sant contributed to this report. Jamie Jones can be reached at 754-6114. Send e-mail to jjones@sptimes.com.

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