DADE CITY — After months of controversy, a resolution to the Dade City sewer saga may be in sight.
Mickens-Harper residents were encouraged, after a workshop last week, that city officials are serious about relocating a reclaimed water tank that was originally planned for their neighborhood. And on Tuesday evening, the Dade City Commission gave initial approval to an ordinance establishing a fund for donations to someday move the entire wastewater treatment plant out of the historically black neighborhood.
"I definitely see it getting better," said resident Jesse McClendon. "The city is sticking to their word to move the tank and controlling the odor. I do agree that they've heard from us and are working toward our goals."
At the same time, Pasco County officials are offering another possible solution. County Commissioner Ted Schrader suggested Tuesday that the city could simply hook up as a bulk user to the county's major Wesley Center wastewater plant off Interstate 75.
The county could easily expand its 6 million-gallon plant by another 3 million gallons. Plus, it wouldn't have to extend lines very far — that facility already serves Saint Leo University and the Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club.
Also, the county is planning a long-term solution for reclaimed water. It is building a 500 million-gallon reservoir in the Wesley Chapel area that would store the water during the wet season for use in the dry months.
Using the county facilities could allow Dade City to dismantle its own sewer plant, a 1950s facility that needs considerable upgrades. Mickens-Harper residents have long resented the plant that was put in their neighborhood at a time when they had little say in the matter.
"That may solve their problems," Schrader said of the possible connection to the Wesley Chapel plant. "It really sounds like it could work."
County utilities director Bruce Kennedy echoed the optimism, saying it "would be very easy for us to pick up Dade City's flow."
City and county officials have a meeting slated for Monday to discuss the idea.
County Commissioner Henry Wilson had earlier floated the idea of the county hooking future connections in Lacoochee and along U.S. 301 into Dade City's existing sewer plant.
Schrader objected to that idea, saying the county doesn't have information on the age and quality of the plant. Plus, he said, the city only has short-term leases to dispose of reclaimed water. "Pasco County would probably have the opportunity to become that regional provider of wastewater services," he said. "It just makes an awful lot of sense to be able to have that discussion."
Wilson said he didn't object to bringing the offer to Dade City, though he asked officials to go into the meeting with "open minds." If hooking into the city plant is a better option, he said, the county should consider it.
The Dade City sewer controversy erupted last October, when Mickens-Harper residents discovered city plans to build a reclaimed water tank on their neighborhood ballfield. The project was going out to bid without residents ever being notified.
Under public pressure, city commissioners put the brakes on those plans, and later agreed to move the tank to a city-owned site on Sumner Lake Road.
Relocating the tank required the blessing of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is providing some grant funding for the project. The agency hosted a Feb. 21 workshop, with city officials and consultants on hand to outline proposals and answer questions. Many residents finally walked away satisfied.
"Everything they've been saying is true enough," said Tavaris Elliott, who originally spearheaded the neighborhood movement against the new tank. "They cleaned up the park and relocated the tank. Now can they please give us back our bases in the ballpark?"
Elliott said the ordinance Tuesday night establishing the relocation fund was another step in the right direction. Clyde Carter, a Mickens-Harper proponent who is running for a seat on the City Commission, persuaded the board to make one change to the proposal, though. Instead of setting up the fund for 40 years, he said, make it 20.
Moving the plant shouldn't take 40 years, Carter argued. "I believe in order to accomplish the project, this ordinance should reflect a reasonable amount of time," he said.