EAST LAKE — Pinellas County officials say they are reviewing the decision to build a water blending plant on 46 acres south of Trinity Boulevard in the Brooker Creek Preserve.
But Progress Energy is sure enough that the on-again, off-again project is going forward to build an electrical substation for it.
Construction started in late fall just east of two county trailers on the site and is expected to be completed by June. The substation will provide power for the water plant if and when it is built.
"We would never move forward with a project of this scope without assurances from our customer that it was needed," Progress Energy spokeswoman Suzanne Grant said Monday. "However, we understand that things can and do change for our customers."
So will a water plant ever rise from the preserve acres?
"The county hasn't decided not to do it," Tom Crandall, the county's director of utilities, said last week. "We are reviewing options with the county, but that doesn't stop the process."
And that process is moving ahead.
Design changes will be completed in the next month, said Mike Engelmann, the county engineer in charge of the plant's design. Then it will go out for bid, and the commission must approve the winning contractor.
In the meantime, County Administrator Robert LaSala is looking at the project, Crandall said, and he expects more discussion before the County Commission when LaSala finishes his review.
The county gave Progress Energy an easement to build the substation on county land last year and the utility got started.
The substation is one more structure on land labeled "preservation" on the Countywide Future Land Use Plan as instituted by state law. The county is seeking a series of land use changes that will allow utilities-related buildings up to five stories tall on 260 acres of the preserve. But those changes are not in place yet.
In earlier plans for the water plant, the contractor was to bring generators to provide electricity during construction, Engelmann said. Having power from the substation will be a convenience, he said, and it may provide cheaper power.
Engelmann said he thinks Progress Energy will recoup the cost of the substation in the rates it charges the county for providing the water plant with electricity.
Progress Energy customers are not usually charged for the cost of bringing power to them individually, Grant said. The cost generally would be reflected in the entire territory's base rate.
In 2006, the county cleared more than 46 acres of the Brooker Creek Preserve and spent more than $12 million on design and site work.
Pick Talley, the former utilities director, said then that he hoped to have a new water blending plant up and running by March 2008.
But the project stalled in late 2006 when the price was $30 million more than the roughly $75 million the county was expecting. Commissioners asked for cost-cutting changes in the design. Then the construction industry fell on hard times.
By last August, the construction estimate was down to $80 million, Crandall said. At that time, Crandall said he was stepping back from the project to look at all the options again before moving forward.
Before he retired, Talley advised the commission to build the water plant on Trinity Boulevard, comparing the circa-1955 Keller water plant to a wornout car.
A blending plant is needed, he said, because county water comes from a fluctuating mix of sources like well fields, rivers, a reservoir and desalinated water from Tampa Bay. The new plant was to blend the water sources and improve water quality.
Through the years, County Commissioner Susan Latvala has been a strong supporter of building the plant on Trinity Boulevard. But some commissioners have questioned whether other alternatives would suffice, like rebuilding the Keller plant with an added water-blending capability.
Since the county has bought the adjoining Eldridge-Wilde well field, expansion space for the existing plant is now within reach.
Theresa Blackwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.