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Desalination plant permit is delayed


© St. Petersburg Times, published November 17, 2000

TAMPA -- State regulators are delaying action on crucial permit application for the proposed Tampa Bay desalination plant until they receive more scientific data, possibly threatening a regional deadline for new water resources.

Approval of the discharge permit is an important step for S&W Water, which has a contract to build the 25-million-gallon-per-day facility near to Tampa Electric Co.'s Big Bend power plant. The $110-million facility is supposed to be operational by the end of 2002, part of an ambitious plan to reduce pumping from depleted wellfields.

But in a letter mailed Thursday to S&W and other project participants, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection called the application "incomplete."

The delays could hinder the company's ability to finish construction on time, company spokeswoman Honey Rand said.

"This permit is really the last big one and the most important one," she said. The project has been "planned with a very ambitious (construction) schedule . . . so there's not a lot of leeway there."

S&W hopes to receive its discharge permit by March because the plant will take between 18 and 24 months to build, she said. The company has most of the 21 permits it needs.

DEP is aware of S&W's concern but cannot begin reviewing the application without the additional information, said application review team member Vince Seibold. The agency wants a copy of the modeling software used to show new salinity levels would not harm the environment immediately surrounding the plant.

S&W hired the Danish Hydraulic Institute to produce the study, one of several reviews performed.

Except for the model controversy, S&W has answered most of DEP's questions, Seibold said. "The underlying issue is access to their science," he said.

The institute fears the technology will become public knowledge under Florida's public records laws, Seibold said. The state administrative code contains provisions for confidentiality that are being explored, he said.

Rand said the institute was never under contract to provide its modeling software to DEP.

If and when DEP decides the application is complete, the agency still will need to review the project and take public comment. Some people strongly oppose the project.

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