TREASURE ISLAND – After years of legal haggling, it appears residents of Treasure Island will no longer have to pay a 25 percent surcharge to the city of St. Petersburg on their monthly water and sewer bills.
Since 2008, the city of St. Petersburg has charged a 25 percent fee for chloride and sulfide treatment of wastewater.
St. Pete Beach sends its wastewater through Treasure Island and to St. Petersburg for the same purpose but was charged a lesser rate, according to Treasure Island City Attorney Maura Kiefer, which led to litigation by Treasure Island.
The issue was rate discrimination, Kiefer said, which ultimately led to a settlement agreement last week.
Pending approval by the St. Petersburg City Council, the deal will go into effect immediately.
“I think this is really a good day for Treasure Island,” said Kiefer. “This settlement proposal eliminates all (strong waste) surcharges for the city of Treasure Island for chlorides and sulfides. Those charges would be eliminated now and would be a savings to the rate payers. This would no longer be on their bills.”
Including the cost of litigation and wastewater savings per household, Kiefer estimated the first year savings to Treasure Island residents would be about $640,000. She estimated city residents would save between $6.2 million and $6.4 million over the next 10 years.
According to figures from Treasure Island Public Works Director Mike Helfrich, city residents have paid $1.12 million in surcharges over the past 30 months.
“In essence we accomplished our financial goal, which was to save money for rate payers,” said Kiefer. “The city will come out ahead without a doubt.”
The settlement includes a 10-year agreement with St. Petersburg for wastewater treatment services without a surcharge. It includes an option for an additional 10 years if all parties are in agreement.
Commissioner Phil Collins wondered why the settlement didn’t include an agreement for 20 years. But after a 10-minute private consultation with Kiefer was assured the current agreement was in the best interests of the city of Treasure Island.
Beach Trail lawsuit set
On another legal front, commissioners voted unanimously July 1 to move forward with litigation against the designers and builders of the city’s Central Beach Trail.
“This is something we’ve been discussing for a year now,” said Kiefer. “I am recommending litigation.”
“Unfortunately, Graham Booth has completely walked away from the responsibility and has left us no choice,” said Collins. “It’s a shame. It’s a terrible way to do business.”
The $1.2 million trail, which extends from the Bilmar Beach Resort north to the Residence Inn by Marriott, opened in March 2013. Within three weeks cracks appeared in the walkway and walls.
Slowly, the number increased. Phil Graham, president of Phil Graham Landscape Architecture, which provided design services for the trail, said in October that his team’s count had the number at 265.
Graham has contended the cause is cosmetic and city officials believe it could be structural.
Kent Whittemore, an attorney representing Graham, told commissioners he would present the results of a petrographic analysis of the trail on Jan. 21 and then postponed it to Feb. 18. The city has yet to see the results of the study.
Meantime, the city hired its own concrete expert and asked for a cost estimate for different remedies from Global Atkins, an international design, planning, project management and consulting services company based in the United Kingdom.
Co-defendants in the lawsuit are expected to include Graham, along with Biltmore Construction Co. of Clearwater, which built the trail, and Coastal Technology Corp., of Vero Beach, which provided structural engineering services.
In other action, commissioners:
• Appointed Bobby Roberts to the Vision Stewardship Committee, replacing Dominique Reiter, who resigned. Roberts will inherit Reiter’s remaining term, which goes through Aug. 31, 2015.
• Approved an outdoor event behind the Bilmar Beach Resort for July 4.
• Hired Larson Consulting Services LLC to proceed with obtaining bank proposals for financing the Gulf Boulevard undergrounding project.
• Renewed the city’s dental, life and long-term disability insurance coverage with The Standard.