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Tampa Bay Water to appeal $21 million in attorneys fees over reservoir lawsuit

CLEARWATER — Members of a regional water board voted unanimously Monday to appeal a $21 million attorneys' bill from a company that designed a cracked reservoir.

The bill stems from a lawsuit Tampa Bay Water filed four years ago against Nebraska-based HDR Engineering, which designed the $146 million C.W. Bill Young Reservoir in rural Hillsborough County.

The agency wanted HDR to contribute about $73 million to the $122 million cost of repairing the reservoir. A federal jury in April rejected Tampa Bay Water's claim. The agency is appealing that verdict.

The court later ordered Tampa Bay Water to pay HDR's costs and attorneys' fees. Tampa Bay Water had estimated those to be between $13 million and $18 million. But when the bill came, it was about $21 million, said Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, who sits on the Tampa Bay Water board.

That's more than board members thought they should pay, Brickfield said.

Board members on Monday also modified their plans for the reservoir.

Earlier this year, they hired Kiewit Construction for $162 million to repair and expand the reservoir by 3 billion gallons. But last month, they backed away after state Department of Environmental Protection officials said they were unsure whether the honeycombed limestone beneath it would support the added weight.

They agreed Monday to spend up to about $129.4 million to reinforce and repair the reservoir. And they agreed to issue up to $85 million in bonds to pay for the repairs and other capital projects.

Tampa Bay Water, which provides wholesale water to 2 million customers in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties, completed the reservoir in 2005 as a way to store water from the Tampa Bypass Canal and the Alafia and Hillsborough rivers.

Workers discovered cracks in December 2006, about a year and a half after it opened. Patching costs between $500,000 and $2 million a year.

In other business, Pasco County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said board members had finished their annual evaluation of Tampa Bay Water general manager Gerald Seeber. The evaluations were "very favorable," she said, and noted that Seeber is not asking for a merit raise. Seeber, who has worked for the agency since 2008, earns $176,400 per year.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Tampa Bay Water to appeal $21 million in attorneys fees over reservoir lawsuit 08/20/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 20, 2012 9:32pm]
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