It took over a year to close the deal, but the dysfunctional desalination plant near Apollo beach finally has a new operator. The Tampa Bay water board has unanimously agreed to enter into a contract with American Water-Pridesta, despite a last minute plea by the broken plants previous operator to let them try to fix it one more time. WMNF’s Andrew Stelzer reports.


The water utilities Using a ratings system, they tentatively choose American water from several proposals two months ago, but let the decision wait while board members studied the proposals in depth. The desal plant went on line 2 years ago, and does remove salt from seawater and can produce 25 million gallons of drinking water a day. But it does not operate efficiently. The main problem is that water getting to the membranes that remove salt is laden with sediment and microscopic organic material. That causes the membranes to clog too quickly, shortening their life and driving up electricity and chemical costs. The only unexpected development in the new contract approval process came Last Friday, a letter came from attorneys representing the companies that manufactured the membranes that remove salt for the plants current operator, Covanta, asking for 9 more weeks to attempt to fix the membranes. But Neil Callahan, the Vice president of Tampa bay Water told the board that the offer was too little too late.

ACT “Even the Yankees are out after 3 strikes. To the extent that Covanta started in December of 2001, failed, got another show, failed again. Then the manufacturer, so that 3 valid attempts none have passed.�

It will cost just over 29 million dollars to fix the plant—the contract with American water also includes 2 and a half million dollars in an owners allowance, which raises the total the cost of the desal plant from 108 to 140 million. Tim Cornelison is a water plant operator, who claims to be the foremost expert in the membranes that aren’t working correctly. He was flown in from new York by Coventa, to speak on behalf of the company, asking for the extra 9 weeks, which they offered free of cost. Cornelison says it will take only 15 or 20 small adjustments to fix the plant, and was disappointed that he was only granted 3 minutes to make his case.

ACT “It doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything to have us come in and let us try and fix it….

Tampa Bay Water is suing coventa over the plant's design and poor performance, seeking $15 million from their insurance company. money received through litigation with Coventa will also go towards funding the desal plants. After hearing Cornelisons request, St Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who is a Tampa Bay water board member, questioned the boards general manager Jerry Maxwell about the letter received Friday from Coventa,

ACT “They are ..did they. So they waived that opportunity, they didnt fix it, 8 months ago, when we had 3 large companies…no they didn’t…then they came forward..we the public needs to know but we have an obligation. Swiftmud has provided us an obligation to provide there a risk of delay?…yes there is a risk of delay..AWP wont stand down for 8 or 9 weeks…we may violate the RFP process, and would other companies that did not get the proposal have legal standing? They well could because its a significant deviation to the RFP..and this company…is this for their legal standing..and its evident that the letter say this document will be entered into evidence..this is a legal maneuver in defendants in a lawsuit..they’re comin in at the 11th hour…�

American water-Pridesta takes on the majority of risk for problems with the plant as of October 2007, one year after its scheduled completion date—the one exception would be if something goes wrong as a result of the action of a third party. Pridesta will have a chance to replace any old equipment, but once they choose not to replace it, they are responsible, so there can be no blame assigned to the plants old operator after the fact. Ken Hern, the project manager for Tampa Bay water, says he did not believe that The 31 million dollars which could have been saved by taking up coventa on their offer was worth the risk.

ACT “The previous contractor has had over a year, we’ve had experts, the manufacturers, we believe that the proposal is good….a delay not only costs us interest, but jeopardizes the procurement process.�


ACT ‘What we received on Friday had no guarantees..the letter has all the indications of being a legal maneuver…were you surprised? Yes I was, but you shouldn’t be, but we believe that we made the right decision..�

Once the plant is tested and declared complete, the south Florida water management district will also contribute 85 million dollars, which will go towards the desal plant—over the next 20 years, the plant will cost 321 million dollars to fix and operate. American water Pridesa now has 12 months to work on permitting and design and another 12 months to complete construction—the contract states they will have to have the desal plant running by October of 2006.

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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