BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County says a new wellfield and water treatment plant is needed near Ridge Manor to prepare for future growth and improve existing services for eastside homeowners.
But several residents call the proposed project an encroachment on their lives and last week carried signs outside the government center protesting the plan. They want the plant built on land better suited for such a project.
It comes to a head Tuesday when county commissioners will consider what would be the first step in the process, getting a 17.6-acre parcel near State Road 50 and Sherman Hills Boulevard rezoned for industrial use.
The county's purchase of the land is contingent on that rezoning plus a hydro-geological evaluation of the property. The latter study has been done and shows no adverse impacts from pumping. Hernando County is under contract to purchase the property from Lee Pallardy Inc. for $470,000.
County Commissioner Diane Rowden said she will wait for Tuesday's meeting before deciding.
"I'm going to look very carefully at all the information that's provided to me by our staff and by the residents," Rowden said.
The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 North Main St., in downtown Brooksville.
When built, the plant would start with one well, with one water storage tank to hold about 2 million gallons of water.
Another well would be added within three years and the maximum number of wells at total build-out - whenever that may be and depending on growth - would be nine wells, two storage tanks to hold 4 million gallons.
Currently, the eastside is served by many smaller water systems, which was adequate when there were fewer communities, said Environmental Services Director Susan Goebel-Canning
But the area has grown and all those smaller systems are now interconnected, and the potential is there for problems with water pressure and storage, she said.
Residents have said the plant will be an eyesore that could affect property values. They said it would be noisy and increased water pumping could create sinkholes in an area already prone to them.
The impact study, done by Tampa-based Leggette, Brashears & Graham, concluded that there would be no adverse impacts to wetlands, lakes and river flow because of additional groundwater withdrawal.
Goebel-Canning said there have been no studies done anywhere to show a correlation between sinkholes and water wells.
However, Goebel-Canning said the county is working with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which uses the most recent information to make sure that sinkholes will not be affected from pumping. The district would continue to work with the county and regulate the system, she said.
Goebel-Canning said the project is in three phases and the first would include building a $120,000 production well on the property.
The second phase, budgeted for 2017-18, includes installation of a ground storage tank, high service pumps and an additional well at a cost of $3.1 million.
Phase three will be contingent on growth in the future, and costs will be determined at that time.
Lynn Gruber-White, president of the Ridge Manor Property Owners Association, said her group views this as a "water rights" issue and it would be detrimental to county property owners and residents if a private company could come in and implement policies regarding water based on profit margin.
"Turning over control of Hernando County Water Utilities opens the door for our resources to be drained and sold off to other areas of Florida whose residents live under the siege of chronic water shortages," Gruber-White wrote in a memo to Rowden and Commissioner Jim Adkins.
"Many of these areas live with permanent water restrictions including designated times when their homes have no water flow or pressure whatsoever," Gruber-White added. "Private companies see the rich, high-quality fresh water resources in Hernando County as a gem to be doled out to the highest bidder."
But Adkins said there is no move afoot to selling the facility to a private company, should it get to that point.
"We wouldn't do that," Adkins said. "There's no thought of privatizing anything out there."
Goebel-Canning also said there is no intent to sell water supplies and that the system would be used strictly for Hernando County residents.