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Lobbying revives funding for sewers, legislator says

Rep. Nancy Argenziano says the Homosassa project should get some money, but it's unclear how much. The state budget isn't final.

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2000


INVERNESS -- State Rep. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, said Wednesday she lobbied successfully to restore some money for the Homosassa central sewer project in the proposed House of Representatives budget.

Although the Senate tentatively set aside $750,000, a House committee returned a budget Monday with zero funding for the project.

"I think we're going get some money," she said. "I don't know how much."

But, heeding her advice, concerned Citrus officials are heading up to Tallahassee early this morning to personally make a case for funding in the final budget.

Commissioner Gary Bartell will be making the drive with County Administrator Gary Kuhl. Bartell said he has scheduled early meetings with incoming House Speaker Tom Feeney and Senate Majority Leader Jack Latvala.

"I may try to talk to the governor himself," he said.

Bartell said he has been sorely disappointed by the recent downturn in the Homosassa project's future, as both Senate and House committees returned proposed budgets including much more money for the proposed central sewer system in Chassahowitzka. For a number of reasons, he argues the Homosassa project deserves to be the priority as the Legislature prepares to dole out limited millions for wastewater projects.

For one, the project is required under a court order worked out with the state Department of Environmental Protection, Bartell said. Past studies showed septic tanks have polluted the spring-fed Homosassa River and, additionally, the project is well underway, he said.

But to his chagrin, the initial House budget that came out Monday contained no money for future phases of the line. Chassahowitzka received $525,000. Its chief advocate, Mickey Newberger, is a friend of Charles Sembler, the powerful chairman of the House General Appropriations Committee. Chassahowitzka also is tentatively down for $1-million in the Senate budget.

However, Argenziano played her own ace card Wednesday in pumping more life into the Homosassa project: Feeney.

She said she emphasized the factors driving the project forward and, in conversations with Bartell, advised him to play hardball with the Chassahowitzka project.

While she supports some funding for that community south of Homosassa, she said a yearlong study into causes of pollution there is not yet complete and would divert money from an important ongoing project.

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