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Water pumping vote concerns commissioners

(ran PC edition)

Steve Simon figured he had at least three votes in the bag when his fellow Tampa Bay Water Board members considered plans for more pumping at Cypress Bridge in Pasco on Monday: his, Pasco County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand's and New Port Richey Mayor Wendy Brenner's.

He was wrong.

Although Hildebrand wanted to shelve Cypress Bridge II, which would pump another 4-million gallons a day from Pasco and northern Hillsborough, Brenner wanted the board to move ahead with the project.

Water board members voted 5-4 to shelve Cypress Bridge II until they have more information about a possible second desal plant.

"We were one vote away from spending half a million dollars to set up more pumping in Pasco County," Simon said during Tuesday's County Commission meeting.

Now, county commissioners plan to write to Brenner and ask her to attend the prep sessions Simon and Hildebrand hold the Friday before each Monday Tampa Bay Water board meeting.

"I still believe if we could get her to the meeting she would see what's going on," County Commission Chairwoman Pat Mulieri said.

No way, Brenner said.

"'I can't spend the time meeting with them and meeting with my commission," Brenner said Wednesday, adding that going to the county's prep session would be like going to the Tampa Bay Water board meeting twice.

"I don't see that it would be productive."

Brenner, who spent several years on the board of the predecessor to Tampa Bay Water in the mid 1990s, said Cypress Bridge always has been part of the regional water plan. The water board had voted to put it on the back burner until the issue came up again Monday.

Commissioners' comments came one day after Tampa Bay Water board members learned that they would have to deal with overpumping longer than expected.

A Hillsborough group's recent challenge to a state permit means water will continue to be pumped from Pasco even after the state's 2002 deadline to reduce groundwater pumping, according to Tampa Bay Water officials.

A challenge from Save Our Bay and Canals, or SOBAC, means Tampa Bay Water will miss the deadline by about six or eight months, said utility spokeswoman Michelle Klase Robinson.

"We're very disappointed," Robinson said.

SOBAC has been fighting the location of a seawater desalination plant near Apollo Beach, as well as plans to siphon some high-water flows from the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers and the Tampa Bypass Canal. The surface water would be treated to drinking water standards at the plant.