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Swing votes may change Tampa Bay Water reservoir vote

A legal settlement over Tampa Bay Water's cracked reservoir seemed like a sure thing last month. Now it's anything but.

Last month, Tampa Bay Water's board members voted 4-3 to settle their lawsuit against the designer of the utility's flawed reservoir for $30 million. But Tampa Bay Water's rules require a vote of at least five of the nine board members.

The settlement is set for another vote Monday, and one of the two board members who missed the last go-round says he's dead set against settling the lawsuit for that amount of money.

"I'm not going to vote for that settlement for $30 million," said Tampa City Councilman Charlie Miranda, who is still recovering from surgery. "I don't think that's a good deal."

Miranda, who said he will attend the meeting by telephone, said he has "been told many times that we've got a good case." So unless the settlement is for a lot more than $30 million, he wants to take the case to a trial.

The other board member who missed the meeting, Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, could not be reached for comment this week. But after last month's meeting, Sharpe said he was leaning toward voting against the settlement too.

"Daggone it," Sharpe said then, "it's the ratepayers who are going to be stuck for a portion of this cost, and that's not right."

For nearly two years, Tampa Bay Water officials have said they hoped the companies that designed and built the reservoir would bear most, if not all, of the $122 million cost of fixing its cracks. Their suits against two of the contractors were settled for $6.75 million, leaving one suit outstanding: the one against the reservoir's designer, HDR Engineering, scheduled for trial.

The utility opened the 15.5 billion-gallon C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in June 2005 as a place to store water skimmed from the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Tampa Bypass Canal. The embankment's top layer is a mixture of soil and concrete to prevent erosion. That's what cracked in several places in December 2006.

Tampa Bay Water recently approved a contract with Kiewit Infrastructure South to repair the reservoir and also boost its capacity by 3 billion gallons for $156 million. During the repair and renovation work, expected to take two years, the utility will have to drain the reservoir dry.

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

>>facts

Meeting Monday

Tampa Bay Water's board meets at 9 a.m. Monday at its headquarters at 2575 Enterprise Road in Clearwater. Board meetings are streamed live on the web at tampabaywater.org/livemeeting.

Swing votes may change Tampa Bay Water reservoir vote 10/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2011 11:05pm]
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