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Diss lifts dander on desal issue

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 21, 2001

PINELLAS PARK -- City Council member Ed Taylor said a seat on Tampa Bay Water's board was the price for his vote to locate a desalination plant here.

On Monday, the utility said no. Taylor now says he will support neither the plant nor any wells that might be located in Pinellas Park or any place the city may want to annex.

"If we are a producer, we also need to be involved in the policy and planning," Taylor said Tuesday. "It allows us to have a certain amount of oversight."

It's unclear whether this development kills the possibility of any sale or lease of city property to Tampa Bay Water. The City Council already had been leery of the idea and the water board decided Monday to look at three privately-owned sites within the city.

Tampa Bay Water, the area's largest utility, supplies drinking water to St. Petersburg, Tampa and New Port Richey, and to Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. The board of Tampa Bay Water comes from those six governmental bodies.

The utility wants to build a brackish water desalination plant in Pinellas County to supply drinking water to St. Petersburg and the county. Brackish water is less saline than seawater and costs less to clean.

The plant would pump 5-million gallons of drinking water a day from 14 wells that would supply the brackish water to the plant. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2003.

Water officials wanted to locate the plant on about 2 acres of a 7-acre site at 102nd Avenue N and the Cross Bayou Canal. The city-owned land has been valued at between $147,500 and $180,000.

Council members were reluctant to see the land used for the plant. They worried about contamination of ground water when the leftover water -- with its higher salt content -- was pumped back into the ground to dispose of it.

They also worried about the potential for sinkholes.

Taylor was especially struck by a concern about sinkholes when he looked at a map of Hillsborugh, Pasco and Pinellas counties. Where wells were located in Hillsborough and Pasco were also the sites of many sinkholes. In Pinellas, where there are no wells, there were few sinkholes.

Tampa Bay Water employees said that was coincidence. The two were not related, they said.

"I know that's sheer coincidence, but to the average citizen, which I am, the two go hand in hand," Taylor said.

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