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Pasco's soaking from reservoir costs ends

A sinkhole-burdened reservoir project in Land O'Lakes has finished construction after quadrupling in cost and generating scrutiny by the County Commission.

The board quietly approved the finishing touches Tuesday on the 20-acre project, including a final change order that calls for spending $500,000 less than expected.

Pasco County utilities director Bruce Kennedy said the reservoir has been operating fine for four months — and sinkhole free. The last order is for maintenance equipment.

The cost of the reclaimed water reservoir near U.S. 41 and Ehren Cutoff started out a few years ago at less than $4-million, but ended at $21.8-million.

"We've got a great facility that's really working well for us," Kennedy said. "Yes, the subsurface issues ended up costing us more than what we thought."

As sinkholes in limestone caused collapses in mid 2007 in the walls and floor, a mammoth repair job was required, increasing the cost. It riled the County Commission, whose members questioned how the project went awry. A year ago, the board halted spending on the project and ordered a review to stanch the rising costs.

Built next to a Pasco County sewage plant, the reservoir is required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to fix environmental problems dating to overflows of untreated and treated sewage in 2003. That order carried up to a $1.8-million fine.

The agency ordered Pasco to build it to help remedy utility violations, notably by improving the capacity to store reclaimed water. That also caused the price to go up, but the project was still expected to cost $13-million in January 2007.

The cost is being paid with utility fees and $5.6-million from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Kennedy and district spokeswoman Robyn Felix said. The final savings came from lower costs than expected to fortify the reservoir.

"Obviously, when you're dealing with an unknown and in their (project officials') words, an anomaly, it's hard to see what really lies ahead," Commissioner Ted Schrader said. He called the cost increases "unfortunate" but said the county ended up with a valuable product.

The county chose the site because it was publicly owned land, which made sense until the sinkholes showed up — after a protective liner had been rejected by contractors and the county, no less.

"You can't see everything down there," Kennedy said this week.

After the troubles, Kennedy said, Pasco has added more engineering reviews for another reservoir planned at a 140-acre former sand mine off Boyette Road in Wesley Chapel. That $22-million project has received three reviews, and Kennedy said no sinkhole issues have cropped up.

But another kind of money trouble has. The credit crunch has frozen plans to build it until the county can issue bonds to pay for it.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

Pasco's soaking from reservoir costs ends 12/17/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 1:49pm]
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