CLEARWATER, Fla., Nov. 03, 2000 (St. Petersburg Times) — After warning city administrators not to rush complicated projects, the City Commission voted Thursday to postpone deciding whether to build an $8.2-million reverse-osmosis water treatment plant to help ease a regional water crunch.
Commissioners Bob Clark, Ed Hart and J.B. Johnson said they had too many questions about the proposed plant and its potential financial burden on the city to move forward Thursday, just three days after they were first publicly briefed on it.
"I'm just not comfortable with the numbers I've seen right now, and I just can't support it," said Commission Bob Clark.
Added Commissioner Ed Hart: "If we were brought into this process earlier, I would have less of a problem moving forward." He told interim City Manager Bill Horne that the information about the plant was "popped on" commissioners this week.
Commissioner Ed Hooper, who will resign from the commission effective Nov. 7, and Mayor Brian Aungst tried in vain to encourage their colleagues to approve the design of the plant, to be built by Tampa Bay Water and then sold to the city.
"None of us up here likes the term "fast track,' " said Aungst. "It's just doing a small part to help the region in an emergency situation."
Tampa Bay Water officials told the commission the region's water emergency requires starting work on the Clearwater water plant immediately — without even a two-week delay.
Tampa Bay Water wants the water plant built to boost the city's water production, and add 2-million to 3-million gallons of water to the region's water supply, since the water supplier faces impending restrictions to reduce its pumping in other areas.
"I'm hopeful a continuance will allow them to become more comfortable," Tampa Bay Water general manager Jerry Maxwell said after the meeting, obviously disappointed. He said there is "inescapable logic" that building the Clearwater plant will benefit the city.
The $8.2-million water plant would be located on some vacant city land on the southwest corner of Sid Lickton Park in central Clearwater. It would cost the city an estimated $1.2-million annually to maintain and require the hiring of five city employees, according to estimates. It would be built on a 12-month schedule, although such projects typically take twice as long to complete.
Andy Neff, the city's water superintendent, told commissioners that it would be cheaper for the city to build the water plant and pump more of its own water, buying less water from Pinellas County. But a majority of the commission pointedly questioned whether the numbers add up.
"It just seems to me that this has been pushed on us so fast, we really haven't had time to digest it," said Johnson.
The commission decided to reconsider the plant and discuss appointing someone to fill Hooper's seat on Nov. 13.
In other business, the commission approved spending $514,765 to purchase a 593-square-foot tract of land and another 1,041-square-foot easement from the WTAN radio station at 200 Pierce St. The tiny parcel and the easement, which will guarantee the city access to the land, are needed to build a new Clearwater Memorial Causeway bridge to the beach.
The expense is twice the city's appraised value of the land owned by Dave and Lola Wagenvoord. But the Wagenvoords had provided their own appraisal that their land and radio station business were worth $3.75-million.
City Attorney Pam Akin advised the commission to go ahead with the purchase, which would give the radio station money to help erect a new tower and avoid a lengthy and possibly more costly court battle.
To seal the deal, the city arranged for the radio station to receive another 1,055-square-foot tract of land from another property owner, so that it can construct a new radio tower on its remaining property. The radio station will find a new location for its studio downtown.
The City Commission also approved new neighborhood revitalization plans for the North Greenwood and South Greenwood areas, including a host of projects that residents there have asked the city to undertake at meetings this summer.
Finally, the commission changed its lease with the Clearwater Country Club to help the club finance construction of a new $2.2-million clubhouse.
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