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Treasure Island comes up dry on refund

TREASURE ISLAND — City officials want $300,000 back that they contend St. Petersburg incorrectly billed in wastewater treatment surcharges.

St. Petersburg disagrees and last month refused to consider giving Treasure Island a credit for charges that date back to 2004.

Now Mayor Bob Minning plans to appeal directly in a letter to St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster to resolve the dispute.

The surcharge "is not supported by historical data and the city should receive a credit," City Attorney Maura Kiefer told the City Commission last week.

She recommended that if a formal city-to-city appeal does not work, Treasure Island should consider calling for formal mediation. A last resort would be to file a lawsuit.

Saltwater intrusion into the city's sewer lines is much less than previously calculated by St. Petersburg, according to data collected over the past 18 months, said Treasure Island public works director Jim Murphy.

Only one of two list stations was measured for chlorides between 2004 and 2008. Beginning in December 2008 at the request of Treasure Island, St. Petersburg began taking chloride measurements from the Paradise Island lift station as well.

From that point on, the city's total saltwater intrusion measurements consistently fell below the level triggering St. Petersburg's surcharge.

Murphy said the recalculation saved Treasure Island $180,000 in wastewater surcharges and $45,000 in out-of-city-limit surcharges.

Murphy said that about a year ago he began asking St. Petersburg to review his data and consider recalculating the charges billed between 2004 and 2008.

"St. Petersburg will not agree to recalculate prior surcharges when no data exists to support such action," Evelyn Rosetti, manager of special projects for St. Petersburg's Water Resources Department, said in an e-mail to Murphy last month.

She suggested instead that Treasure Island fix its wastewater collection system to reduce saltwater intrusion.

Minning, however, views the city's claim as a "no-brainer."

If St. Petersburg again tells Treasure Island "to take a hike," Minning said, the city could then "respond with a legal demand" for mediation.

Minning downplayed the possibility of a lawsuit, saying that would be a decision to be made much later.

The city already is pursuing a different lawsuit against St. Petersburg relating to wastewater treatment. That suit disputes a $25,000 monthly surcharge for treating waste collected outside St. Petersburg's city limits. Treasure Island has refused to pay the charge.

Meanwhile, Treasure Island is researching saltwater intrusion in St. Pete Beach sewer lines that may also be overloading St. Petersburg's treatment plant.

At issue is a requirement that all cities served by the Northwest Plant are fairly charged for treatment services. The regional plant, built with federal money, opened in 1978. Previously, the federal Environmental Protection Agency forced the closing of smaller municipal sewage treatment plants in Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach.

Treasure Island comes up dry on refund 08/24/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 26, 2010 4:23pm]
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