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Judge rules Treasure Island owes St. Petersburg $1.3 million

ST. PETERSBURG — A Pinellas Circuit judge ruled Monday that Treasure Island must pay St. Petersburg $1.3 million in unpaid surcharges that have been stacking up since 2008.

The decision ends the latest battle in a long "sewer war" between the cities.

Judge Amy Williams' summary judgment meant that Treasure Island was required to pay the 25 percent surcharge, which St. Petersburg charges to treat and dispose of sewage it collects from jurisdictions outside its city limits, including not just Treasure Island but also Gulfport, South Pasadena, St. Pete Beach, Tierra Verde and portions of Pinellas Park and unincorporated Pinellas County.

"We are just delighted," said Mike Connors, St. Petersburg's public works administrator.

Treasure Island residents won't see an increase in their monthly bills because city officials there have been collecting the disputed fees and depositing them into an escrow account.

"There will be no increase in bills," said Treasure Island Mayor Bob Minning, who said he will try to call a meeting with the City Commission this week to determine whether to appeal.

St. Petersburg began treating Treasure Island's wastewater in 1978 after federal environmental regulators forced the closing of smaller municipal wastewater treatment plants, including St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island, as part of the Clean Water Act.

It has been an uneasy alliance ever since. In 1998, Treasure Island refused to pay a 65 percent rate hike, which was resolved when the cities agreed to a reduced rate schedule. Further disputes led to a revision of the agreement in 2004.

In 2008, the agreement expired. During its renewal, St. Petersburg included the new fee, which costs Treasure Island about $300,000 every year. St. Petersburg began charging various cities the new fee in the last 10 years after state lawmakers said regional utilities could charge an extra fee to cover the risk of serving jurisdictions outside city limits, said Jane Wallace, an assistant attorney for St. Petersburg.

Minning said he objects to the surcharge because his city treats and disposes of sewage through its own pipes. Only until the waste reaches a lift station in South Pasadena does St. Petersburg begin handling it, Minning said.

"St. Petersburg doesn't own infrastructure in Treasure Island," he said.

Judge rules Treasure Island owes St. Petersburg $1.3 million 12/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 12:06am]
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