Homosassa water supplier fears new Suncoast leg will pollute its well field

Two runners pass underneath the Suncoast Parkway as they run along the Suncoast trail on Wednesday afternoon, January 27, 2016 in Tampa. [ZACK WITTMAN | Times]
Two runners pass underneath the Suncoast Parkway as they run along the Suncoast trail on Wednesday afternoon, January 27, 2016 in Tampa. [ZACK WITTMAN | Times]
Published February 5 2016
Updated February 5 2016

To some people in Citrus County, the second leg of the Suncoast Parkway would be a tremendous economic boost, spurring new development in areas now far off the beaten path.

But to the 6,000 people who get their water from the Homosassa Special Water District, the new toll road is a pollution threat.

The road's stormwater retention ponds would be located next to — and upstream from — the water district's Peach Orchard well field, which produces more than 7 million gallons of water a day. Both are atop a highly porous geological formation known as karst, which is made of easily dissolved limestone riddled with holes and channels.

"The ponds sit like a loaded gun pointing at the well field," said Carol Joy Barice, the Brooksville attorney representing the Homosassa water supplier.

What the water supplier fears, Barice said, is a tanker truck loaded with fuel or chemicals crashing on the new road, spilling its contents, which would then flow into the retention ponds. Because of the porous karst, she said, "there's a good possibility that will go towards the well field and we'll have to shut down the well field."

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Barice pointed out that in 2001, shortly after the first leg of the Suncoast began allowing cars and trucks, a sinkhole opened under one of that road's retention ponds. Soon thereafter elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria turned up in six private wells nearby.

She said the water provider has tried negotiating with the DOT's Turnpike Enterprise division, but at a meeting last June the road-builder's response was basically, "Trust us."

One solution would be to move the ponds, but Barice said it's probably too late for that.

"There's an awful lot of political support for the road and they're trying to get it built very rapidly," she said.

The Suncoast extension had been dormant for years when Gov. Rick Scott put $150 million in the budget last year to revive it. Neither Scott's staff nor the DOT could explain why he selected that one highway project for a revival.

In December, while the Homosassa agency's negotiations were still going on with DOT, the Southwest Florida Water Management District — more commonly known as Swiftmud — announced it was approving the permit for the ponds. That forced the Homosassa agency to challenge the permit in the state Division of Administrative Hearings. A trial is set for April.

Turnpike spokeswoman Christa Deason said the DOT does not comment on pending litigation. Swiftmud spokeswoman Terri Behling said the water district took the Homosassa well field concerns into account in deciding the ponds were safe.

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

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