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Tampa Bay Water loses reservoir case
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Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Water
When the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir is operational, it can hold 15.5 billion gallons of water. The reservoir is currently closed due to repairs.
The United States Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion Sept. 23 affirming the judgment of the trial court in the case of the cracked soil-cement at the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir.

Tampa Bay Water officials announced the news Monday afternoon.

“While the outcome of the appeal was not favorable for the people of the Tampa Bay region, the judicial system has made its decision and the agency must continue to focus its attention on the future,” Tampa Bay Water said in a media statement. “Tampa Bay Water’s No. 1 priority is, and always has been, its commitment to provide clean, safe drinking water to the region.”

Tampa Bay Water filed a federal lawsuit in December 2008 against HDR, as well as the contractor Barnard Construction and the construction manager CDG after cracks were discovered in the reservoir’s interior soil-cement lining.

Tampa Bay Water’s board rejected a $30 million settlement offer from HDR after the board’s advisers estimated the agency could get as much as $97 if they won the lawsuit.

A federal jury ruled against Tampa Bay Water April 10, saying that HDR “did not breach its standard of care” when designing the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir.

“ Saying we are disappointed is an understatement,” former Tampa Bay Water General Manager Gerald J. Seeber said in a press release issued after the April 10 verdict was announced. “We feel strongly that the public shouldn’t have to pay twice for a fully functional reservoir. We hired HDR to design the facility. HDR certified its design and the construction to the state, so we believe HDR is liable. We’ll discuss the verdict with our board and consider our legal options, including a possible appeal.”

The board decided on the appeal.

Former Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, who was on the Tampa Bay Water board at the time, said public opinion had been loud and clear that the board should not take the smaller amount.

“ But there’s always a risk (when going to court),” he said. “This is a complicated case with a lot of opinions.”

The problem and solution

The reservoir began operation in 2005 and provides water storage for Tampa Bay Water’s regional system during the dry season, at which time water is pumped from the reservoir to the surface water treatment plant and then on to the customer.

Cracks were found in the flat-plate, soil-cement, erosion-control layer lining of the reservoir’s interior during an inspection in December 2006. After studies and data analysis of the problem by consulting engineers, Tampa Bay Water’s system engineer said in a June 2009 report that the reservoir was safe and could be fixed.

Tampa Bay Water spent the next two years looking for the right solution and the right firm to do the work. A $162 million contract was awarded to design-builder Kiewit Infrastructure South in August 2011 to renovate the reservoir and, upon staff’s recommendation, increase its storage capacity by 3 billion gallons.

Of the $162 million, officials said $42 million would be used to increase the storage capacity, and $120 million was allocated to the reservoir’s renovation. About $6 billion was set aside for unforeseen costs.

Work is scheduled to occur in two phases. Tampa Bay Water funded the $15 million needed for the first phase through existing bond proceeds, resulting in no rate impact for customers in the near-term. The reservoir is currently closed as repairs continue.

TBW provides wholesale water to the public utility systems of Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties as well as the cities of New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa.
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