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Friday, Apr 18, 2014
Pasco Tribune

Utility sale to benefit buyer, residents

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PORT RICHEY -

After the sale of the privately owned Aqua Utilities water and sewer system to the Florida Governmental Utility Authority was completed last week, the buyer pledged no rate increases beyond inflation for the next five years.

With the deal done, County Commissioner Jack Mariano will renew his push to close Aqua’s sewage facilities along a Ranch Road entrance to the Palm Terrace Gardens subdivision in Port Richey. Mariano wants to convert the facilities for recreation and drainage uses.

The authority will expand its operations by nearly a fourth, adding about 22,270 connections for a total of 112,000, company officials said.

The $50 million deal includes Aqua systems in Pasco and 11 other counties in central Florida.

Favorable rates on bond financing will enable the authority to purchase and improve 71 former Aqua Utilities systems, said Robert Sheets, the authority’s system manager.

“There will be a brief operational transition period when Aqua will continue providing interim services,” Sheets said in a news release about the March 28 closing of the sale. “But we’re confident that customers will notice a public service difference very shortly.”

Sheets said the authority can provide better customer service, improved reliability and stable rates with no increases beyond inflation adjustments.

Since 1999, it has worked closely with local governments and private utility owners to acquire, upgrade and maintain water and wastewater systems. It uses contract management and operations.

In February 2009, the authority bought the Aloha Utilities system in the Seven Springs area. After numerous upgrades during the past four years, it has completed an $800,000 project to control odors from the Seven Springs treatment plant on Mitchell Ranch Road.

Mariano wants to start improvements to the former Aqua Utilities system at the Palm Terrace subdivision along Ranch Road, east of U.S. 19 and Zimmerman Road.

Many residents can look out their front windows to see a scenic vista — a sewage effluent pond or effluent spray field, Mariano said. The area has more than a thousand homes.

Mariano envisions a neighborhood park in place of the sewage facilities. A park also could absorb some stormwater drainage in the flood-prone area, Mariano believes.

“This place acts like a dam where the water has nowhere to go,” Mariano said in February about tall berms surrounding the sewage facility and spray field. Tropical Storm Debby last June pounded the area with floods, he said.

“So (water) backs up on the road, threatening the homes (along) Arbordale Drive,” Mariano said, as well as other streets such as Nome Avenue and Birchwood Drive.

Mariano thinks the area could be reshaped to level the berms.

The concept hinges on whether the authority would continue to use the Aqua sewage facility as it is now or contract with the county to handle sewage for the area. Mariano believes the county would have enough capacity to supplant the Aqua sewage facility.

Ultimately, Mariano believes the neighborhood is in need of amenities such as a park. Grants are available to help pay for projects, he added.

Authority officials have not commented yet on Mariano’s plans.

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