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Hearing could delay Tarpon Springs water project's permit for months

Henry Ross, 72, questions Tarpon Springs public services program manager Bob Robertson during a hearing Tuesday at City Hall. 

DEMORRIS A. LEE | Times

Henry Ross, 72, questions Tarpon Springs public services program manager Bob Robertson during a hearing Tuesday at City Hall. 

TARPON SPRINGS — Henry Ross wore a beige corduroy blazer with brown leather patches on the elbows and a pair of blue jeans as he took a city official through a line of questions Tuesday.

His thick, white eyebrows slanted with every response. He often gave a deep "umhum" to answers.

Ross, 72, wants to know how the manatees, sea grass, sea turtles and overall habitat will be affected after water from a proposed $45 million treatment plant is discharged into an industrial canal near the Anclote River.

"Has anyone studied the effects on the natural habitat that's already existing in the basin?" Ross asked every witness he questioned.

Virtually all the witnesses Tuesday said that based on studies there would be no adverse effect on the area's marine habitat.

Tuesday was the second day of a hearing requested by Ross to determine if Tarpon Springs should get a required environmental permit to build the water treatment plant.

Monday's testimony included expert witnesses and even a commercial fisherman talking about the possible effects to his livelihood.

Tarpon Springs officials contend Ross is just trying to delay the project.

"His intention is to delay this and he has informed the city staff of that," Thomas Trask, attorney for the city, said Tuesday.

If that is the intent, it has worked.

Construction was to start next month, but now it could take up to three months before Bram D. E. Canter, the administrative law judge hearing the matter, makes a finding. And if that recommendation doesn't go in Ross' favor, he could appeal, which could take another six months.

On April 19, Ross requested an administrative hearing with the state's Division of Administrative Hearings. He wants the city to be denied a required environmental permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

During Tuesday's proceedings in the conference room at Tarpon Springs City Hall, Ross cross-examined witnesses presented by the city and the Department of Environmental Protection.

Ross often objected to testimony and asked that reports conducted by witnesses be deemed inadmissible because elements of the research were "hearsay."

Tarpon Springs' proposed project calls for a reverse-osmosis treatment facility that treats brackish, or salty water pulled from 17 wells drilled 100 to 150 feet deep north of the Anclote River. The resulting salt concentrate, or brine, will be flushed into an industrial canal that empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

The reverse-osmosis plant would be allowed to discharge 2.79 million gallons a day of industrial wastewater.

Ross said the city should use an underground injection well system that sends the discharge back into the ground. Bob Robertson, Tarpon's public services program manager, testified Tuesday that the method was not feasible.

Robertson declined to comment to the St. Petersburg Times after his testimony, citing the ongoing hearing.

The city started the permitting process for the treatment plant in 2006.

This isn't the first time that Ross has delayed a city project. In 2000, Ross filed a similar request in an attempt to prevent the city from dredging along the Anclote River. City Manager Mark LeCouris said that action slowed the city's efforts for five to six years and "cost taxpayers probably hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

Hearing could delay Tarpon Springs water project's permit for months 09/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 7:59pm]
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