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Fertilizer company backs off plan to export wastewater

TAMPA — A $188-million proposal by a private company to ship treated wastewater from Hillsborough to Polk County has sprung another leak.

On Friday, Mosaic Fertilizer said it is pulling out of a partnership with local governments and Water Partners Inc., the company that is spearheading the project.

Mosaic's Dave Townsend said the fertilizer company still supports the concept, and it will make its land available to store water for the project.

But it appears "the cart was before the horse," he said.

"It became evident to us that there were a lot of public policy decisions that needed to be made before a business partnership could be reached," Townsend said. "We're simply stepping back and reallocating our focus on our core business, fertilizer, while those decisions are being made."

Water Partners has asked the Southwest Florida Water Management District to give it $94-million in taxpayer money to help fund the project.

The funding request raised questions by government officials about oversight of the public's money and turned the proposal into a political football.

Water Partners wants to use the money to finance a bank loan for construction of a water-delivery system that would be paid back largely through the sale of the water to customers, including Tampa Electric Co., which needs the water for planned expansions in Polk County.

Then last month, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio threw a curve when she said Water Partners shouldn't count on using the 55-million gallons of treated wastewater that the city dumps into Tampa Bay each day for the project.

Iorio said she wants to develop a plan to keep the water within city limits to offset use of drinking water for irrigation and industry in Tampa.

The water company's original proposal included most of Tampa's reclaimed water.

Water Partners vice president John Wilcox said the announcement by Mosaic doesn't change the company's plans.

"They're still willing to put their assets in it," he said. "They just don't want to sit in a driver's seat."

Wilcox said the proposal is still moving forward. He continues to work with government officials on an organizational structure for the public/private partnership that will make everyone comfortable.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Fertilizer company backs off plan to export wastewater 06/08/08 [Last modified: Sunday, June 8, 2008 10:50pm]
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