First, Tampa Bay Water lost its legal bid to collect more than $100 million from the designer of its cracked C.W. "Bill" Young Reservoir in southern Hillsborough County.
Now, the region's water provider has been ordered to pay $20 million in legal fees and expenses related to that failed lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge James Whittemore issued the order Monday morning on the heels of his 38-page final ruling in a three-year-old legal battle between Tampa Bay Water and contractors on the reservoir.
Tampa Bay Water plans to appeal Whittemore's ruling regarding one of the contractors, Nebraska-based HDR Engineering, said Gerald Seeber, the water company's general manager.
Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, Tampa Bay Water has enough in reserves to cover the final costs without raising rates, Seeber said.
Tampa Bay Water provides drinking water to Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. The agency, which relies on wells and a desalination plant on Cockroach Bay, opened the state's largest reservoir in 2005 to store water from the Alafia River, Hillsborough River and Tampa Bay Bypass Canal.
The reservoir is an above-ground structure with earthen walls about 50 feet high.
Tampa Bay Water has spent months draining the 15.5 billion-gallon reservoir so crews can begin repairs in late January. The reservoir, which is now about one-third full, should be empty by mid-January, Seeber said.
About 18 months after it opened, the reservoir developed deep cracks – some of them hundreds of feet long – along its upper edge. They eventually spread two-thirds of the way down the soil-and-concrete surface inside of the reservoir.
Tampa Bay Water sued HDR and the other companies involved in the development of the reservoir.
Ultimately, all the contractors but HDR settled out of court. Last year, Tampa Bay Water scuttled a potential $30 million settlement with HDR, opting for a jury trial in April. The jury ruled for HDR.
In his ruling, Whittemore acknowledged the $20 million in attorney's fees is extraordinary. Tampa Bay Water must accept responsibility for forcing HDR to spend hundreds of millions of dollars defending itself in court beyond what was reasonable, Whittemore said.
"This was no ordinary engineering malpractice case," Whittemore said.