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Rivalry spills over into issues of water

Oldsmar's mayor and former mayor have traded jabs before. The current controversy centers on whether there actually is a water crisis.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2001

Oldsmar's mayor and former mayor have traded jabs before. The current controversy centers on whether there actually is a water crisis.

OLDSMAR -- The long-running rivalry between Mayor Jerry Beverland and former Mayor Jerry Provenzano has spilled over into the area of water policy.

The latest disagreement between the two began in April, when Beverland said at a City Council meeting that state water supply officials have exaggerated the area's need for water and created the current water crisis.

"We are not in a crisis," Beverland said on April 3. "What has happened is, the water board has created a crisis for us."

Beverland made his comments after a presentation about the city's water conservation program. He said Florida did not have a water shortage because it has "more surface water than any state in the union."

"My solution is to tap into some of these natural springs," he said. "Tap into something. Somebody is going to get upset at me. That's fine. But if I'm the last man on Earth and there are two turtles out there, they are soup."

Provenzano, who is a member of the Pinellas-Anclote River Basin board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, confronted Beverland about his statements at a council meeting a month later.

A few days after that, Provenzano played a four-minute video of Beverland's statements to fellow basin board members shortly before the board voted on awarding money to the city for one of its projects.

"I take offense personally on behalf of this board and on behalf of the water management district that our integrity and veracity has been challenged," Provenzano told board members during their May 9 meeting. "I think that's wrong."

At a council meeting on Tuesday, Beverland plans to air his feelings about Provenzano playing the tape to the basin board.

"He was very vindictive and extremely petty about it," Beverland said. "I'm really upset over it. He played that tape to get back at me, plain and simple."

Both Beverland and the city's Public Works director, John Mulvihill, who attended the basin board meeting in May, say the tape of Beverland's statements most likely did not influence the vote. The basin board unanimously approved giving the city $189,364 to help pay for the next set of studies on whether the city can operate its own water-treatment facility.

Mulvihill attended the meeting to lobby the basin board for about $82,000 more than what was awarded to help pay for additional studies. The board denied the city's request for more money after Swiftmud staff explained that only a portion of the project would yield information useful to Swiftmud.

"Did it have anything to do with the tape?" Mulvihill said. "Probably not. My assessment of the whole thing was that they were not going to give (the additional money) to us anyway."

The city, which buys water from St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, has been studying whether it could build a $15-million water treatment facility that could treat 3.2-million gallons a day of underground, brackish water. Brackish water has a salt content about 10 percent of that found in seawater.

In 1998, an engineering company hired by the city finished an $80,000 preliminary study, paid jointly by Oldsmar and Swiftmud, that determined there was enough water underground to supply the city. The next phase of studies, expected to cost $614,285, will include additional studies and the design and construction of test wells.

The goal of the second phase is to determine whether it is economically feasible for the city to build its own treatment facility. The basin board approved the recommendation of Swiftmud's staff to help the city pay for the design and construction of test wells but not the studies on how to treat the water and the salty concentrate.

That's because those studies would generate information that is not useful to Swiftmud, because the district typically does not help pay for treatment facilities that would use traditional sources of water, such as underground, brackish water.

Even though it was unlikely that the city could have persuaded basin board members to give the city more money, Beverland said, Provenzano didn't help.

"By doing that, he possibly hurt the citizens of Oldsmar," Beverland said. "If he was going to help represent the citizens, especially the citizens of the town he lives in, he would not have done that."

Provenzano said Beverland's statements were an attack on the basin board and that's why he showed board members the tape.

"I think when someone makes a comment like that, the people who the comment is made about have a right to know it," Provenzano said.

Showing basin board members the tape of Beverland's statements did not hurt the city, Provenzano said, because the board approved giving money to the city.

"They left the meeting with $189,000 that they didn't have when they walked in," Provenzano said. "To tell me that they are being injured, I don't see it."

Terry England, a member of the basin board, said Beverland's statements did not affect his vote. England said he did not understand why the tape was shown "relative to the city of Oldsmar's request for additional funding."

"But I had to chuckle, because I know a lot of people who think the same thing that he does and they never fail to let me know about it," England said. "I couldn't get all fired up about it. There are so many people who feel the same way as Mr. Beverland does . . . that I couldn't blame him for being particularly out of step."

Beverland points out that his statements about water shortage are his opinions and that he has a right to express them.

"Now, let me ask you, am I blameless in all of this?" Beverland said. "Probably not. Maybe I should temper what I say, but I made it very clear that it was my opinion."

In an interview last week, Beverland acknowledged that despite the lack of rain, he stands by his opinion that there is no water shortage.

"Florida has a lot of water, and we are not utilizing it," he said.

During the April 3 council meeting, Beverland took a jab at Swiftmud, which is responsible for governing the water supply in west-central Florida.

"I love Swiftmud's money," he said. "I'll take their money. But for a board to sit there that I can't even vote on and I got to pay them or you people have to pay them millions of dollars every year, and for them to come up with the conclusion "Here's how we solve our water problem: You can only water on Friday,' that is not an answer to me."

Provenzano said his only complaint about Beverland's comments is that he attacked the basin board and Swiftmud by claiming they had made up the water shortage.

"I would be willing to accept the fact that the water shortage is contrived if someone can show me where we are hiding all the water that used to be in the rivers and lakes," Provenzano said.

Provenzano and Beverland each say it's the other who is to blame for the political tension between them.

Said Beverland: "It's always him that's bringing this feud up. I don't know what it is. It's a personal thing with him. With me, I could care less."

Said Provenzano: "I don't see this as a blood feud. Maybe he does. I do not. I don't wish him any ill will."

Provenzano served two terms as Oldsmar's mayor from 1991 to 1995, with Beverland taking over the seat from 1995 to 1999 and winning it again in March.

Beverland is too eager to take sole credit for the city's successes, Provenzano said.

"Mr. Beverland likes to take credit for everything," Provenzano said. "The only thing I haven't heard him take credit for was introducing (Oldsmar founder) R.E. Olds to his girlfriend."

In late 1999, both men considered running for the County Commission.

"If he wants to run against me, I would eat him alive," Beverland said of Provenzano at the time. "I would make him look so damned foolish. It's not that I dislike him; I just think he's a jerk. But he thinks I'm a jerk too."

In response, Provenzano said, "one of the key things (about serving on the County Commission) is maintaining that professional profile for the county."

Provenzano did not run. Beverland ran and lost to Susan Latvala.

More recently, Provenzano supported the mayoral candidacy of former City Council member Ed Manny, who opposed Beverland in the March city election.

As for the water shortage, it is all too real, according to regional water supply officials.

Years of below-normal rainfall have drained the well fields that supply the Tampa Bay area, said Dave Bracciano, resource conservation coordinator of Tampa Bay Water, which sells water wholesale to local municipalities. Some areas of Pasco are 5 feet of rainfall below normal since October 1998.

"It is extremely dry this year," Bracciano told council members during a presentation in May. "We are in the throngs of a pretty severe drought."

- Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183.

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