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Lindrick lags on paying its water bill

The owner says New Port Richey overcharged the utility and owes it damages in a dispute over two wells. The mayor says there are no plans to shut off the water to Gulf Harbors.

By MATTHEW WAITE

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Lindrick Service Corp. hasn't paid its bulk water bill for two months and the New Port Richey City Council will talk tonight about how to collect the nearly $50,000 bill.

The City Council will be given a list of options from the city manager, including suing, doing nothing and turning off the water. The city currently sells bulk water to Lindrick under contract for about $24,000 a month.

But Lindrick says it doesn't owe the city any money. A letter from Lindrick owner Joe Borda sent Monday to New Port Richey's Utility Department claims that the city overcharged Lindrick, and owes the company damages for not letting Lindrick drill two wells inside New Port Richey, some 1,000 feet from the city's own wells.

City Manager Gerald Seeber said the letter does nothing to settle the bill.

"He didn't send any money," Seeber said. "The contract says you pay for the water; you don't write letters about it."

According to the city, Lindrick hasn't paid its bill for April and May, owing the city, as of last week, $49,562.12, with interest accruing at an annual rate of 12 percent. The city has already tacked on $2,360.11 in penalties for the two late bills.

But, as usual with Lindrick, little is simple.

Borda, in a rare interview with the Times on Monday, said the payment issue was "something our attorneys are handling," declining to elaborate. When asked whether the payment issue was about the two wells, dubbed Wells 6 and 7, he said "I don't want to say something that will be misinterpreted."

The two wells have been a murky and contentious issue between New Port Richey and Borda since the two wells were part of a failed sales deal with Port Richey. The two wells were to be sold to Port Richey for $5-million and were considered the key to making the nearly $20-million deal work.

But right to the end, the ownership of those wells was clouded. The contract said they were owned by Pasco Reserve, a corporation with ties, albeit cluttered, to Borda. But Borda said he didn't own them.

Now Borda, in a letter to the city, claims New Port Richey owes Lindrick for damages in not letting those wells be drilled. The drilling was stopped because New Port Richey wouldn't grant the company permits to get electricity hooked up to them.

Seeber said the wells, and Lindrick's subcontractor H20 Utilities, didn't comply with city development codes, and there were other questions about whether they complied with state codes.

Mayor Wendy Brenner said she will recommend to the council that they aggressively try to collect the bills. But she doesn't think that will mean shutting off Gulf Harbors' water.

"I don't think, in all good conscience, we could do that," the mayor said. "It's not him (Borda) we're shutting off, it's 8,000 people in Gulf Harbors."

But the feud doesn't end with water bills.

Also at issue is the wastewater that New Port Richey processes for Lindrick under a separate contract. In a memo to the council, Seeber said Lindrick has violated the chloride limits in the agreement eight times.

Borda claims otherwise.

"We do not have a problem with chloride," he said.

The chloride levels have been confirmed by two laboratories, one city-owned and the other independent, according to Seeber. The high levels jeopardize the city's permits for selling reclaimed water, he said.

"Yes, he does have a problem with chlorides," Seeber said. "It's unacceptable."

All of this has drawn the attention of state Rep. Heather Fiorentino, a Republican of New Port Richey, who represents the Lindrick area and has been following the comings and goings of the utility and the area's governments. She said she is watching the feud, and notifying state regulators and the Public Service Commission about what's going on.

"You can't hold the payment for the water hostage because you want something else," she said.

But Fiorentino said she is concerned for the Lindrick customers.

"I'm going to work to make sure the water isn't turned off," she said. "But he's (Borda) not going about this the right way."

-- Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waite@sptimes.com.

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