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    State plans to issue permit for seawater desal plant

    By JEAN HELLER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 21, 2001


    TAMPA -- The state Department of Environmental Protection announced Friday its intent to issue a final permit for construction of a seawater desalination plant on Tampa Bay in the Big Bend area of Hillsborough County.

    The department had signaled last month that it would approve the project, but that was before a public hearing and comment period. After reviewing data presented in the past 30 days, the DEP concluded that construction and operation of the plant presents no unwarranted environmental hazards and that safeguards and monitoring are in place to identify problems if they arise.

    The DEP will issue the permit in 14 days unless there is a challenge in the meantime. Such action is anticipated from a citizens' group in south Hillsborough County, Save Our Bays and Canals. If SOBAC acts, Hillsborough County could join in the action, although the county is not expected to challenge on its own.

    Tampa Bay Water, the regional water utility for which the desal plant is being built, has taken steps so that work can continue on the project during any challenge, which could take three months to resolve.

    The desal plant could handle 25-million gallons of water a day. The project is a major component of the region's development of new water resources that would lessen dependence on groundwater and indemnify the region against drought. The plant is projected to cost $110-million and is scheduled to go on line in December 2002.

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