State officials say a citrus grower has failed to show why it should get the authority to sell water and wastewater in rural northeast Pasco and southeast Hernando counties.
The Public Service Commission's 86-page staff recommendation, released Thursday, said the Evans Properties subsidiary "did little to demonstrate real and immediate need for service within this requested territory."
The Public Service Commission is scheduled to vote Dec. 14 on the request for Skyland Utilities to offer services.
Evans Properties owns about 4,000 acres in the two counties, about 80 percent of it in Pasco. The land consists of old citrus groves and is now used mainly for grazing.
As Evans transitions out of the citrus business, it has been trying to use its large land holdings to position itself for the future. Company officials have said the water and wastewater facilities could serve a potential agribusiness as well as new residential and commercial development on its parcels.
But officials in both Pasco and Hernando counties have fought the proposal, arguing it would lead to sprawling development in the picturesque areas, violate long-term growth plans and allow a private company to put at risk a public resource, groundwater.
Both counties say the parcels can be adequately served by private wells and septic tanks under current zoning.
Public Service Commission staff said Skyland had not shown otherwise.
"Skyland provided a host of possibilities for potential service throughout its proposed territory at some indeterminate time in the future," the report says. "The applicant provided only vague descriptions of the type of services that could be needed, and no indication of when the service would be needed or even whether it would be subject to commission jurisdiction."
The report sides with Skyland on several points, however.
Pasco and Hernando had argued, for instance, that Skyland doesn't meet the definition of utility because it would be serving only properties owned by its parent company. Commission staff, however, said Skyland put forth evidence that it could be serving potential agribusiness and residential customers.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.