DADE CITY — City commissioners vented their frustrations Tuesday evening over the failed talks from 2010 to bring county sewage to the city's wastewater treatment plant, but several officials hoped a new round of talks might lead to a deal.
City Commissioners Camille Hernandez and Bill Dennis accused City Manager Billy Poe of contradicting the reported comments from county officials over who walked away from a potential agreement. Piping in the county's sewage would generate more revenue for Dade City — and it could expedite the time line for the city to build a new sewer plant elsewhere, as residents of the Mickens-Harper neighborhood have advocated.
"The majority has spoken but the city continues to drag their feet," Hernandez said. "When we are clear to strike any deal, the ball keeps getting dropped. As far as reconnecting with the county, let's sweep away these ashes and let something great happen."
Poe said Wednesday he was at a loss to sort out the conflicting reports of how the 2010 deal soured.
"The city is interested in the possibility of Pasco hooking into us and we always have been," he said. "If I can get county Administrator John Gallagher to the table, the discussion won't change. It's the same as it ever was."
Dennis said he wants to open another official dialogue, starting with a roundtable of city and county officials to consider all alternatives.
"My priority is to remove the sewage plant entirely," Dennis said, referring to Dade City's aging plant in Mickens-Harper. "But it's obvious that we can't do it ourselves. We need to bypass the city manager to city manager process in order to realize the commitment we've made to our citizens."
Mayor Scott Black acknowledged the proverbial "two sides" to every story, especially in previous communications between the city and the county.
"It's the nature of the beast, unfortunately, in this business," Black said. "And we all deal with it the best we can. I think our scheduling a meeting with (county utilities director) Bruce Kennedy should sort out a lot of things and will be a good opportunity to talk about the possibility of future partnering opportunities."
Talk of the old partnership idea resurfaced recently amid two separate sewer plant controversies.
Some Blanton residents are fighting a planned county wastewater plant that would be built off Powerline and Christian roads to serve the Trilby and Lacoochee communities as well as future growth on U.S. 301. They argue the county facility wouldn't be needed if the sewage could be piped to the Dade City plant instead.
Meanwhile, Dade City's plans last year to build a treated wastewater storage tank next to its plant in Mickens-Harper sparked a new movement among residents of the historically black neighborhood to move the entire plant altogether. City commissioners agreed to build the storage tank on Sumner Lake Road instead, and indicated a willingness to someday build a replacement plant there, too.
The extra sewage from the county — and the revenue from treating it — could help the city build that new plant sooner. But county officials say building the pipelines and pump stations to reach Dade City's plant could cost twice as much as building their own small plant in Blanton.
Now a new group has joined the debate: members of the Sumner Lake Road Neighborhood Association, who aren't interested in having a new city sewer plant in their back yard.
"There are 33 families who live or own property adjacent to the Sumner Lake perc ponds where your (recycled water) tank is relocating," resident Janet Collura told the Dade City Commission. "We're organized to oppose this on the basis of property values and quality of life. We have as much right as anyone else.
"We understand that we're county residents and can't vote against any of you. Is the city's idea of a public notice one piece of paper on an electric pole? Manners and being good neighbors is not what you're about."
"We will all be back next week," Collura said, referring to a Feb. 21 hearing that Dade City must hold on its wastewater storage tank plans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is providing a grant for the project, is requiring the city to hold a hearing on environmental issues and concerns of racial injustice before deciding to move the tank to Sumner Lake Road.
Dennis said the Blanton residents and the Sumner Lake homeowners don't have the power to influence city policy.
"They have no say," Dennis said, "unless they want to be annexed by Dade City. They don't pay taxes or have a vote in this matter."
Ardell Sims, who supports the efforts of Mickens-Harper residents, gave a preview Tuesday night of the presentation commissioners can expect to see Feb. 21. She asked for a show of hands among the crowd of 70 in attendance.
"Who here would accept a sewage plant in their front yard?" Sims said. "Please move this facility because it's not right."