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Council to hear more on desalting

In theory, no one would have a problem with putting a desalination plant on Mobbly Bay if a comprehensive study proved it wouldn't hurt the environment.

But some City Council members don't believe such a study will be done before a plant is built. They have spoken against the proposal by Progress Energy to locate a desalination plant beside Higgins Power Plant just outside the city.

Other members, including Mayor Jerry Beverland, aren't quite ready to jump on the opposition bandwagon.

A representative from the Southwest Florida Water Management District has been invited to the council meeting tonight to set everyone straight about the process.

Mark Hammond, manager of Swiftmud's Surface Water Improvement and Management program, will explain what permit hoops a developer will have to jump through before a desalination plant can be built.

Beverland said he invited Hammond, along with Don Lindeman from the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority, to clear up misinformation. West Coast is considering proposals from five developers to build a plant that would turn saltwater into drinking water for the region. A preliminary ranking of those proposals placed Progress Energy's proposal at No. 1.

City Council members have been divided on the issue for weeks. Three council members want to follow in the footsteps of Tarpon Springs, where the City Commission unanimously approved a resolution opposing desalination plants near that city. In Tarpon Springs and Oldsmar, there is concern that the salt concentrate left over from the desalination process will harm marine plants and animals.

However, two members of the Oldsmar City Council say no one knows enough about desalination to make an informed decision.

"With all of these accusations and all of these theories and misunderstood rhetoric going around here, I don't know how anybody can make any decision whatsoever," Beverland said. "The city should get some decent information from the authorities that are handling this."

After the presentation, the council will return to a debate it left unresolved last month. A resolution bluntly opposing desalination has been drawn up, but not voted on.

That vote was stalled when council member Jeff Sandler offered a change to the resolution. Rather than flatly object to the desalination proposal, Sandler suggests, the council should request a thorough environmental study before the project is built. The council will discuss his suggestion.

The subject has raised concerns from numerous residents. Some spoke out against the project at the last City Council meeting. Council member Ed Manny, who proposed the original resolution, said he remains convinced that a desalination plant will never work on Mobbly Bay.

"Do you think someone with an independent study will say it's all right to put it there? I don't think so," Manny said.

The council meeting begins at 7 in the City Council Chambers beside City Hall at 100 State St.