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CLEARWATER -- After years of court challenges and uncertainty, Tampa Bay's first seawater desalination plant clears its final obstacle at 10 a.m. today.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has announced it will issue the final permit for the plant at that time, making its completion 13 months from now a virtual certainty.
"We are elated," said Jerry Maxwell, general manager of Tampa Bay Water, the region's principal water utility, which has struggled for seven years to put a desal plant into operation. "It's taken a very, very long time, and now, finally, the process has come to an end."
Tampa Bay Desal, the company building the 25-million gallon a day plant in the Big Bend area of southern Hillsborough County, also expressed relief.
"We're very pleased," said Tim De Foe, manager of the project for Tampa Bay Desal. "It has been a struggle. Our attorneys were called by DEP, and they will physically pick up the permit at 10."
Last month, an administrative law judge dismissed the effort of a citizens group from the Apollo Beach area to stop the project. The group, called Save Our Bays and Canals, filed exceptions to the ruling, but has not signaled any intent to appeal it formally.
SOBAC or any other party will have 30 days from the date that the final permit is issued to take the matter to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, although Maxwell said he didn't think there was any way to turn back the project now.
"It could be appealed, but it wouldn't be very rewarding," Maxwell said. "The administrative law judge's opinion was so solid, he just didn't leave much room for appeal. If there were an appeal, and if it were successful, it might squeeze out a little more (water quality) monitoring, but it wouldn't stop the process."
This is the final permit to be issued on the plant, and it is the biggest, giving Tampa Bay Desal the green light to discharge the brine end product of the desalination process into Tampa Bay. The discharge and sensitive environmental areas around the discharge point will be monitored closely for adverse impacts, which DEP does not expect to occur.
The plant is scheduled to go on line by the end of December 2002.