DADE CITY — In a stunning reversal Tuesday night, Dade City Commissioner Bill Dennis yanked his support for building a 2 million gallon reclaimed water tank in the Mickens-Harper neighborhood, where residents have fiercely objected to the project.
Commissioners Eunice Penix and Camille Hernandez joined him in a 3-2 vote to undo the previous approval for the tank, which would have been built just past the centerfield fence of the neighborhood's baseball field.
Instead, the trio pressed for considering an alternative site on city-owned land off Summer Lake Road, where Dade City already has percolation ponds. Officials have talked about someday building a larger wastewater treatment plant at that site, once the population grows enough to justify it.
"I am not convinced that this project cannot be moved to the percolation ponds," Dennis said Tuesday night. "I believe it should be there because that's where everything else is going eventually. I ask the city manager to pursue every avenue to research this alternative site."
City Manager Billy Poe said he would find out the cost and logistics of building the reclaimed water tank at that site. The information will be presented at a special commission meeting next Tuesday.
Hernandez, who has been an outspoken critic of plans to put the tank in the Mickens-Harper neighborhood, echoed the call for alternatives. She said she has spoken with the city's consultant on the project, as well as the agencies providing grants, and has been assured they could move the tank without jeopardizing the funding — as long as the project is finished on time.
"It was very sad to watch the impacted residents beg and plead," Hernandez told the Times. "I've been on the commission for six years and I acknowledge the accusation that we don't keep our word. If the shoe was on the other foot I'd object, too. We've added insult to injury here and I want to make right a continuing wrong to this neighborhood."
The reclaimed water tank was the most visible piece of the planned rehabilitation and expansion of the Dade City wastewater treatment plant, which is located in the Mickens-Harper community. Neighborhood leaders have said the wastewater treatment plant, built in the 1950s when black residents had little say in its location, represents a lingering insult. Over the years, residents stopped hanging their clothes out to dry and stopped eating fish from the local pond, which they worried was becoming contaminated.
The resentments resurfaced this fall, when neighbors saw engineers and contractors with clipboards at the Mickens field. They discovered the city planned to put a 2 million gallon reclaimed water tank on the field, to store recycled water that would be piped up to the Little Everglades Ranch. The plans had been in the works for years, but the neighborhood was never notified.
At an Oct. 25 meeting, a divided City Commission pressed forward with the tank, although they moved it just beyond centerfield. They also pledged to spend about $200,000 on odor control devices at the plant, which handles all of the city's sewage, about 600,000 gallons a day, and vowed to make other upgrades to the neighborhood park.
But many residents want the plant shut down and a new one built elsewhere. Since Dennis was part of the commission majority that supported the project in October, he was able to make the motion Tuesday night to reconsider the vote.
At first the commission was slated to award the project to a construction firm, but Poe pulled the item from Tuesday's agenda because he said officials needed more time. When commissioners had an open floor at the end of the meeting, Dennis brought the issue back up.
If the commission decides to go with the site at Summer Lake Road, Hernandez said she believed the city could update the project specs and put it out for bid again, and still finish the project by next October.