April 20, 2014

Difficult Solutions

In March, Tampa Bay Water (TBW), which functions as a water wholesaler for Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties, decided to contract with Boston-based Stone & Webster and Stamford, Conn.-based Poseidon Resources to finance, build, own and operate a $95 million desalination plant on land leased from Tampa Electric Co. at its Big Bend power station on Tampa Bay. The plant, which could go online in fall 2002, would supply 25 million gallons of water a day that TBW could resell to its regional customers, including the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. The developers say they can provide water at a wholesale cost of $1.71 per 1,000 gallons the first year and an average of $2.08 per 1,000 gallons over the life of the 30-year contract. Retail customers would see their monthly water bills increase by about $6, according to estimates.
The desalination decision was a landmark step for TBW, which since its creation last year has helped soothe tensions among local governments caused by years of disputes over water. Gene Schiller, deputy executive director of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud), says the privately owned facility will let the region enjoy "the best benefits of the private sector being used for a public service."
Within weeks of the desal decision, TBW got more possible good news: Robert M. Thomas, president of Two Rivers Ranch on the Hillsborough-Pasco county line, filed a permit request with Swiftmud to pump 25 million gallons daily from his property for resale to TBW. Thomas claims he can pump the water without damage to the Floridan Aquifer or to the nearby Cone Ranch wellfield TBW plans to bring online.
If the permit is granted and Thomas can work out a deal to sell his water to TBW, the water from the desal plant and Two Rivers Ranch would amount to nearly half the new supplies the region must create by 2007.
Meanwhile, demand for water in the Pinellas-Pasco-Hillsborough region climbed to record levels during the spring, aggravating some old regional tensions. The more than 320 million gallons pumped on some recent days is nearly double the daily average TBW allows its wellfields to produce, creating pressure for communities in the region to conserve. But the six member governments that comprise TBW have been unable to come up with a regional conservation plan. Some appeared eager to restrict TBW to its supply-side role and keep it out of conservation, which they view as a local prerogative. If water consumption remains high and there's not enough precipitation during the summer, Swiftmud might have to step in with mandatory restrictions on water use.
It's also unlikely that the desal plant will be built without some additional friction. Some are concerned that the briny discharge from the plant could harm Tampa Bay's manatee population and other marine life in the bay's ecosystem. The state Department of Environmental Protection will study the plant's possible effects during its 12-month permitting process.

In the news ...

Hillsborough County - The Sierra Club wants construction halted on the Suncoast Parkway and has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Construction began on the $500 million, 42-mile toll road linking Hillsborough and Hernando counties last summer. The Sierra Club says the Army Corps overlooked residential and environmental impacts when it issued permits for the parkway. The Army Corps says it's waiting for a court date to be set.

Lakeland - Tulsa-based Williams Gas Pipeline announced plans to build a natural gas pipeline across the Gulf of Mexico from Alabama to Florida and has set up a regional office in Lakeland. The office will house 15 project managers and engineers involved in permitting and surveying potential sites for the onshore portion of the proposed Buccaneer Pipeline Project.

The Lakeland Downtown Development Authority plans to spend $1.3 million to spruce up the downtown area. Improvements include a new city park.

British luxury automaker Rolls Royce is shopping for a Lakeland location for a proposed 50,000-sq.-ft. turbine engine repair facility. A decision is expected this month. The facility would create 120 jobs immediately and another 190 in three to five years.

Palm Harbor - Human resource services giant Minneapolis-based Ceridian Corp., a publicly held company with revenues of $1.2 billion in 1998, agreed to acquire employee benefits administrator ABR Information Services (Nasdaq-ABRX) in a deal worth about $750 million. ABR employs 1,500, has 50,000-plus customers and projects 1999 revenues of $120 million. James E. MacDougald, the company's founder, chairman and CEO, will continue to lead ABR.

Polk County - County unemployment hit an all-time low of 4.1% this spring, and construction companies face a shortage of skilled and unskilled laborers. The construction industry has added more than 600 jobs to the local economy since January, and building permits for single-family homes continue to rise, increasing 11% in March.

The state of Florida gave top honors to the Polk County School-to-Work Partnership. The workforce development program for Polk schools is federally funded and has 2,600 local business partners.

Sarasota - Construction begins this fall on the waterfront in downtown Sarasota for a new Ritz-Carlton hotel, scheduled to open in spring 2001. Wichita, Kan.-based Core Development will develop and own the 270-room hotel, which will also have 50 luxury condominiums.

St. Petersburg - The residents' board gave final approval to zoning changes, clearing the way for construction to begin on Carillon Office Park's proposed 19-acre Town Center. The mixed-use development on Ulmerton Road will include a 20-screen theater, hotel, parking garage, retail stores, restaurants and a 200-unit condo/apartment complex. Groundbreaking is expected by December.

Tampa - Broomfield, Colo.-based Ball Corp. will close one of its two Tampa aluminum can manufacturing plants by year's end. The maker of metal and plastic containers for food and beverages acquired the facility from Reynolds Metals Co. last year. The closing plant, which is union, employs 170; the plant remaining open is non-union with 140 workers.

Customer service representatives will take their first calls this month at General Motors' new technical support service center at the former Eastlake Mall, now called Netpark of Tampa Bay. Baltimore-based Sitel will operate the call center and employ about 600.

Professional staffing firm Romac International (Nasdaq-ROMC) plans to begin construction this year on a new, $12 million corporate headquarters in Ybor City.

The city's first new high-rise construction project in more than 10 years is under way on Tampa's tony Bayshore Blvd. The luxury condominium, called The Stovall, will have 33 units ready by spring 2000. The units will range from 3,000 to 6,000 square feet and are priced up to $1.65 million.

Kidder, Peabody & Co. will pay a fine of $2.5 million to settle federal charges of illegal profit-taking, also called yield-burning, stemming from a $138 million city of Tampa bond issue in 1991.

Overheard
Bradenton-based Tropicana Beverage Co., a Pepsico subsidiary and the largest private employer in Manatee County, electrified two dozen developers, two counties and four cities when it announced it wanted to anchor a new office campus in the area and occupy 75,000 square feet. The announcement triggered a local scramble and drew the attention of big-name architects and developers from New York City to Miami. Tropicana says it wants to move 350 employees and maybe its headquarters, but hasn't issued many specifics. "At first sight it looks as if they aren't sure what they want," says Frank Tamberrino, head of Sarasota County's economic development committee. "But it makes sense." Rather than plan it themselves, they are letting developers "put their dollars on the line." Tropicana spokeswoman Kristine Nickel adds, "We're in the business of producing juice, not real estate." Tropicana is expected to decide on a team some time this month. ... ... "We feel it's a State Road," says County Manager Jim Threewits. "They say it's a County Road." The conflict between Glades County (pop. 9,917) and the Florida Department of Transportation over who is responsible for - pardon us, Jim - County Road 74 escalated recently when Glades officials cut off traffic with a road block at the county line. "We had no option," says Threewits. "We just don't have the funds to fix that road." The two-laner, a popular truck route linking I-75 near Punta Gorda with U.S. 27 in Glades, needs repairs costing up to $15 million. Normally the county would pay. But Glades' entire budget totals $12 million. Salvation might be near for Glades and other cash-strapped counties. In May, the Legislature set aside $25 million for repairs on secondary roads in 35 counties. The new legislation was awaiting Gov. Jeb Bush's signature.

Tags: Florida Small Business, Politics & Law, Southwest, Business Florida

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