Make us your home page
Instagram

Tampa Bay Water seeks new trial in C.W. Bill Young Reservoir case

CLEARWATER — Tampa Bay Water's board will ask a federal judge to grant a new trial in its $73 million lawsuit against the company that designed its cracked reservoir, but has not decided yet on appealing last week's jury verdict against the utility.

However, utility officials said ratepayers are unlikely to see any increases for some time.

The board met Monday with attorney Richard Harrison for the first time since a jury rejected the utility's claim against HDR Engineering. Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand, a Pasco County commissioner, announced the board would hold a 45-minute closed-door session with Harrison —- and then the board members took twice that long discussing the outcome of the case and what to do next.

Afterward, one board member, Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, made a motion to fire Harrison and hire someone else to pursue the case. His motion died for a lack of a second.

"When I learned today that we didn't hire a jury consultant and the other side did, that led me to believe we needed new legal representation," Brickfield explained later.

Harrison, in an interview, contended that what made the difference in the case was not the lack of a jury consultant. Instead he pointed to a series of rulings by U.S. District Judge James Whittemore that limited or blocked Tampa Bay Water from presenting much rebuttal to HDR's case.

For instance, he said, Whittemore did not allow witnesses to testify about HDR's role in inspecting the reservoir's construction or to show photos of how the cracking continued this month. Those points are likely to be addressed in a motion for a new trial, he said.

Tampa Bay Water, which provides wholesale water to 2 million Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough county customers, filed suit four years ago against HDR to help pay the estimated $122 million cost of repairing the 15.5-billion gallon C.W. Bill Young Reservoir in rural Hillsborough County.

Nebraska-based HDR designed the $146 million reservoir, which opened in June 2005 to store water from the Tampa Bypass Canal and the Alafia and Hillsborough rivers. Workers first discovered the cracks in December 2006. Some cracks stretched 400 feet and 15½ inches deep and wouldn't stay patched.

After a monthlong trial in Tampa federal court, though, a jury took less than four hours to decide HDR bore no responsibility for fixing those cracks. HDR's attorney had argued that the reservoir worked just fine and the cracking was only a cosmetic problem.

The board has hired Kiewit Construction for $162 million to design a way to repair and expand the reservoir by 3 billion gallons. During Monday's meeting, board member Mark Sharpe, a Hillsborough County commissioner, asked about the cost of just repeatedly patching the cracks.

Patching costs between $500,000 and $2 million a year, engineer Jon Kennedy said. But what hurts the utility more, he said, is that when cracks appear, state regulators limit how much water can be put into the reservoir.

Still, "many of us are still unsure about the expansion of the reservoir," another board member, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman, said after the meeting. "I am."

The utility's director, Gerald Seeber, contended that expanding the reservoir still makes sense as a way to guarantee a ready supply of water during times of drought.

So far Tampa Bay Water has incurred about $10.6 million in legal fees. HDR will likely file a motion seeking to get Tampa Bay Water to pay its legal fees and costs, a claim the utility anticipates to be between $13 million and $18 million.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com.

Tampa Bay Water seeks new trial in C.W. Bill Young Reservoir case 04/16/12 [Last modified: Monday, April 16, 2012 8:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Lockdown: Florida's 97,000 prison inmates confined through weekend

    State Roundup

    All of Florida's 97,000 state prison inmates are on lockdown — and will remain confined to their dorms at least through the weekend — in response to unspecified threats about possible uprisings, officials from the Florida Department of Corrections confirmed Thursday.

    Blackwater River Correctional Facility. [Florida Department of Corrections]
  2. Carnival announces five more cruises from Tampa to Cuba

    Tourism

    TAMPA — Carnival Cruise Line is adding five more cruises from Tampa to Cuba in 2018, Port Tampa Bay announced Thursday.

      Carnival Cruise Line announced additional cruises to  Cuba. Pictured is its Paradise cruise ship departing on its inaugural voyage to Cuba from Tampa. | [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
  3. Engage Behavioral Health expands into Wesley Chapel

    Business

    On Aug. 5, Engage Behavioral Health celebrated the grand opening of a new clinic in Wesley Chapel.

    hillsevbiz081117: Jennifer Phelps is the CEO & Founder of Engage Behavioral Health. Photo courtesy of Engage Behavioral Health.
  4. Former owner of Sirata Beach Resort purchases two Tampa Bay shopping centers

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — After selling the Sirata Beach Resort and Conference in February, Nicklaus of Florida, Inc., has purchased two Tampa Bay shopping centers to diversify the firm's portfolio in the area. Colliers International, representing the sellers, announced the transaction this week.

    Sirata Beach Resort and Conference Center, one of Tampa Bay's last family-owned beach hotels, was sold to a Texas-based company, Crescent Real Estate LLC for $108.19 million. [LARA CERRI | Times]
  5. The Mill, independent and chic, looks to find its place amid Brandon's restaurant chains

    Retail

    Elevated cuisine might not be the first image that the Brandon dining scene conjures.

    The Brandon location features a bar with planned happy hour drink specials.