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RESERVOIR HOLES COST $5.6M

The county approves the third round of massive grouting work to repair a reservoir in construction.

The sinking earth has caused costs to jump $5.6-million for a Pasco County reservoir demanded by Florida regulators.

The county has to build a 20-acre reservoir southeast of U.S. 41 and Ehren Cutoff to store reclaimed water. The treated wastewater is used to irrigate yards and golf courses, reducing the draw on drinking water supplies. In times of abundant rain, however, officials need a place to store the unused reclaimed water.

But as workers began building the earthen walls for the Land O'Lakes reservoir, small holes broke open on the reservoir bottom. To fix them, the County Commission on Tuesday approved a third round of massive grouting work, commonly done for sinkholes.

The $5.6-million for all three rounds of grouting work raises the cost of the reservoir to about $18-million, said Bruce Kennedy, assistant county administrator for utilities. That's a hike of more than 40 percent.

The $5.6-million will come from money that would otherwise be used for other county utilities projects.

"If we don't have this problem, we'd have more money to do things," County Administrator John Gallagher said, although it was too early Tuesday for officials to say which projects might be delayed as a result.

The reservoir grew out of a consent order with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which found Pasco County Utilities had committed a series of wastewater treatment violations. The county agreed to pay a $359,000 fine and make improvements, including the reservoir.

But Commissioner Ted Schrader raised larger fears that a breach in the reservoir could open sinkholes that would drain the treated wastewater into the Floridan Aquifer - or that settling earth could split the reservoir wall, causing treated wastewater to spill into neighborhoods nearby.

Kennedy said the grouting repairs should remove the risk and noted the reuse is treated to meet drinking water standards.

"You drink it first," Commissioner Michael Cox replied.

Kennedy said afterward that he considered the holes not sinkholes but smaller "dropouts," each about a foot in diameter. But Larry Maron, senior consultant with geotechnical engineer QORE Property Sciences, said the distinction is "probably semantics."

Schrader, Cox and Commissioner Jack Mariano peppered Kennedy and Maron about the homework done to pick and prepare the site for the reservoir.

"When we evaluated the site, did we not do subsurface testing or some tests to determine any problems like this?" Schrader asked.

Kennedy and Maron said ground-penetrating radar and other soil tests were done and continue to be done. And Kennedy defended the choice of the location on county-owned land near the Land O'Lakes wastewater treatment plant. The site, he said, is "strategically located."

Just not the holes.

After an initial review showed sinkhole problems, the county approved nearly $1.7-million in sinkhole grouting in January. Then $796,000 more in May. Then Tuesday's $3.2-million whopper, bringing the total to $5.6-million.

Kennedy and Maron said detecting sinkholes was tough because the pressures on the soil changed, and the gaps can occur as far as 50 feet below the surface.

"As you know," Maron told the board, "it's not unusual for sinkholes to form in Pasco County."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6232.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

Fasano shelter

The commission voted 5-0 to name a new regional hurricane shelter for state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. Fasano delivered nearly $8.5-million in state funds for the Hudson shelter, which also will have a health clinic. The shelter is due July 2009.

Sysco incentives

Nearly $2-million in county money was approved to lure Sysco Food Services to build a distribution center in Zephyrhills. The initial approval is in addition to $3-million from the city. The center would employ 257 people. A final vote will be Aug. 7.

Noise cannons

County attorneys will draft a proposed ordinance banning noisy air cannons in most places in the county. Some neighbors have complained about the noise from blueberry farmers firing the air cannons to scare birds from their crops. But Commissioner Ted Schrader said he feared the ban would go too far.

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