Tampa Bay Water Approves Contract to Fix Desal Plant

Tampa Bay Water officials have approved a plan to pay a German-Spanish consortium $29 million to fix a troubled desalination plant that is over budget and years late.

The regional water authority's board voted unanimously Monday to have American Water/Pridesa repair the Apollo Beach plant, the largest desalination plant in the United States. The project's original $110 million price tag has grown to $140 million.

Tampa Bay Water gets a guarantee that the plant will be operational in early 2007, a pledge backed by a $36 million performance bond. Its original startup date was last year.

The contract will add about 9 cents to the cost of every 1,000 gallons for Tampa Bay Water's 2 million customers in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. A family using 8,000 gallons of water a month would pay an extra 72 cents. Rates won't increase until the plant is running.

The board rejected a proposal from three former contractors on the project to prove they could make the plant work for much less than $29 million.

The plant has had to overcome three bankruptcies and a series of missed deadlines. Launched with great fanfare in 1999, the plant was seen as the solution to the Tampa Bay region's problem of over-pumping drinking water from underground.

The plant is supposed to take 40 million gallons of water each day from Tampa Electric Co.'s Big Bend power plant next door and force it through 10,000 tightly woven membranes to produce an average of 25 million gallons of potable water and 15 million gallons of brine.

St. Petersburg Times, The Associated Press

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