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OVERRUN IS PAID - GRUDGINGLY

Commissioners aren't happy with the cost of a waste-to-energy plant.

Some of them weren't happy about it.

But county commissioners ultimately voted to set aside another $13.6-million to cover cost overruns on the expansion of their waste-to-energy plant in eastern Hillsborough.

Commissioner Brian Blair used the occasion to blast previous decisions by the board not to seek competitive bids for the project, now estimated to cost as much as $138.7-million.

The price of the project, by Covanta Hillsborough Inc., has climbed about 35 percent since initially approved by commissioners in June 2004, before Blair joined the board.

"What could a (request for bids) have hurt?" Blair asked.

Other, newer commissioners also raised their objections to the county's past decisions not to seek bids on the project.

But only Commissioner Al Higginbotham joined Blair in registering that complaint with a no vote, when commissioners approved the expenditure 5-2.

Solid waste management director Barry Boldissar told commissioners that the increase reflected unprecedented price hikes for materials and labor to build power plants.

"These cost increases could not have been avoided," Boldissar said.

Money for the increase will be diverted from another solid waste project and, if necessary, reserve accounts. No rate hikes are expected due to the increase.

The plant burns garbage, using the heat to produce enough electricity to power about 15,000 homes.

The expansion is expected to increase the amount of garbage burned by about 50 percent.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

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