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Treasure Island sewage dispute threatens service

TREASURE ISLAND — The city's $1.53 million dispute with St. Petersburg over sewage treatment rates could spill over to affect residents of St. Pete Beach, Causeway Isles and Yacht Club Estates.

St. Petersburg, which treats wastewater from all three communities, is threatening to turn off all treatment services to Treasure Island by 2014.

The only problem is that sewage from St. Pete Beach and from St. Petersburg's residential communities on either side of the Treasure Island Causeway either runs through Treasure Island pipes or through Treasure Island's city limits.

"Clearly there is no feasible way to separate the wastewater streams of St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island," Mayor Bob Minning wrote in a letter Thursday to the St. Petersburg City Council.

Minning said the treatment termination notice sent to Treasure Island by St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster "jeopardized" St. Petersburg's own residents, as well, who live in Causeway Isles and Yacht Club Estates.

Wastewater from those communities is transported through a main in Treasure Island, while St. Pete Beach's wastewater is combined with wastewater from Treasure Island before being piped to St. Petersburg's treatment plant.

Building new mains and routing them under the Intracoastal Waterway for St. Pete Beach and the two St. Petersburg island communities would cost "tens of millions of dollars," Minning said.

Minning also warned that if St. Petersburg no longer receives treatment revenues from Treasure Island, St. Petersburg residents' sewer and property tax bills could "skyrocket."

The roots of the dispute extend back decades to when a regional treatment plant was built in St. Petersburg for handling wastewater from Treasure Island and other beach communities.

Treasure Island's rate contract for that service expired in 2008. When the cities were not able to reach a new agreement, St. Petersburg began charging an extra 25 percent.

Treasure Island disputes the legality of that surcharge and has refused to pay.

The issue ended up in court and in January, Circuit Judge Amy M. Williams ruled against Treasure Island, saying St. Petersburg acted properly in levying the surcharge and that Treasure Island should pay back the $1.53 million it owed, including interest.

Just one week after Treasure Island appealed Williams' decision in February to the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland, Foster sent the city a termination notice that St. Petersburg would no longer treat Treasure Island's wastewater.

Foster told Treasure Island that if the dispute was not resolved and a new agreement in place by October, St. Petersburg would cease treating the beach city's sewage at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 1, 2014.

"After that date, St. Petersburg will cease to accept Treasure Island's sewage for treatment and disposal purposes," Foster said.

Earlier this month, the two city councils met jointly to discuss the dispute, but have reached no resolution.

What Treasure Island wants is the same deal that St. Pete Beach has —- a flat rate with no out-of-city surcharges.

"We implore the St. Petersburg City Council to give this simple and fair settlement serious consideration," Minning wrote, pointing out that both beach cities contributed financially to the original expansion and upgrading of the North West Water Reclamation Facility.

Meanwhile, Treasure Island is continuing its legal battle and a week ago hired an outside law firm to assist its city attorney in its appeal of the Circuit Court ruling.

Treasure Island sewage dispute threatens service 04/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 21, 2012 4:31am]
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