OLDSMAR — At times, city officials thought they'd never see the mound of dirt, the shovels, the hard hats.
The road to Friday's ground-breaking of the city's $20 million water treatment plant began more than a decade ago with a question:
Do you think we can develop our own water supply?
Feasibility studies were commissioned. Grants were requested, then denied. Twice, former Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed funds designated for the project. Costs rose.
"I started getting a little worried," Mayor Jim Ronecker said. "I'm watching the costs go from $17 million to $18 million to $20 million and I was like, 'Hey, we don't have the money.' "
The turning point came in 2008, when the Southwest Florida Water Management District's Pinellas-Anclote River Basin Board awarded Oldsmar a more than $9 million grant.
"That $9 million is what put us from the uphill side to 'we can see the end of the road,' " City Manager Bruce Haddock said.
Then 13 months ago, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection followed that up with a check for $3 million.
The money was part of the $217 million awarded to Florida under the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The remainder of the cost will be covered by Penny for Pinellas sales tax money.
The water treatment plant is the largest public works project in the city's history. It's also on track to be the first brackish groundwater project cooperatively funded by the district, said Todd Pressman, the chair of Swiftmud's governing board.
Construction at the site, 350 Commerce Blvd., is expected to begin this month and last until spring 2012.
Once complete, the water treatment plant will use reverse osmosis technology to turn brackish water into drinkable water. It could produce up to 2 million gallons of water a day.
"While certainly today is a milestone," Haddock said, "what I'm really looking forward to and I want to right now invite all of you to come back for (is) the ribbon cutting. That will be a big celebration."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4167.