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Southern Hill's Phase III landowners try to stop reclaimed water upgrade

BROOKSVILLE — Money from a settled lawsuit should allow the city to build a wastewater treatment system that could pump as much as 750,000 gallons of reclaimed water daily for landscape irrigation at Southern Hills Plantation Club.

Brooksville public works director Richard Radacky said work to upgrade the city's treatment facility on Cobb Road is set to begin in early September.

But the long-stalled project faces a new, potentially major roadblock.

On Aug. 18, James and Paula Holliday and Gary and Cynthia Sutton filed a motion for a temporary injunction against the city demanding that it freeze funds for the project until the city completes infrastructure and road paving in Southern Hill's Phase III, where their undeveloped properties are located.

Jennifer Rey, an attorney with the Hogan Law Firm, which represents the city of Brooksville, said the city has 20 days from the filing date to respond to the complaint.

The reclaimed water project was part of the deal between the city and Southern Hills developer LandMar Group LLC. According to a 2003 agreement, the cost of upgrading the treatment facility would be shared by the developer and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which provided a $1.1 million matching grant for the project.

But LandMar's bankruptcy filing in 2008 changed all of that. The city was forced to foreclose on more than $20 million in performance bonds from three surety companies to complete the reclamation plant and other infrastructure. In June, the city settled the case for $3.5 million. Twenty-five percent of that — or $875,000 — went to the Hogan Law Firm, which represented the city in the case.

Last year, the City Council approved a resolution stating that any recovered money would go toward the unfinished infrastructure at Southern Hills. The resolution, however, did not stipulate what parts of the project would be completed first.

Brooksville City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha defended the decision to complete the reclaimed water facility as quickly as possible, saying further delays could prevent the city from meeting a February 2012 deadline set by Swiftmud to use the grant money.

Norman-Vacha said city staff has been working with Greenpointe Communities, the company that acquired the subdivision last year for $3.3 million, in sorting out and coordinating completion of infrastructure.

"You have to remember that no work was done there for four years," she said. "The city never expected they would be acting as developers."

Radacky estimates that upgrading the Cobb Road treatment plant should take about eight months. The city has contracted with Orlando-based Encore Construction Co. to install a 1 million gallon storage tank, chlorine chambers and filtration systems.

Because the subdivision was built with all the necessary irrigation pipes and holding ponds in place, little additional work will be needed to bring the system on line.

Once finished, Brooksville should be able to provide the subdivision with enough water to irrigate the golf course and common areas as well as residences. The plant is designed so capacity can be expanded to provide reclaimed water to other nearby developments.

Council member Lara Bradburn said that having a reclaimed water system is a valuable asset to the city that will have immediate and long-term benefits in that it will drastically reduce the amount of water pumped each day from aquifer.

"We'll be saving a valuable resource in our community," she said. "I can't imagine anyone thinking that's not a good thing."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Southern Hill's Phase III landowners try to stop reclaimed water upgrade 08/30/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 7:51pm]
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