POLK COUNTY – Polk County Regional Water Cooperative board members are expected to select a mediator to resolve their differences during an emergency meeting July 29.
Over the past three years, there has not been much public dissent from board members regarding plans to spend around $1 billion on five water infrastructure projects over the next decade or so. Recently, that appears to have changed.
During a PRWC meeting May 20, several PRWC board members publicly expressed concerns about the plan for the first time.
Two of the five projects in the plan are particularly expensive to build. For example, the most expensive project is a series of around 30 Lower Floridan Aquifer wells along the Lake Wales Ridge which will cost $446 million at build out.
A second Lower Floridan Aquifer wellfield is proposed to be built along Interstate 4 in Lakeland at a cost of $204 million.
Connecting these desalination plants to every municipality in the county will cost more. Combined with other proposed projects, the wish list could exceed a billion dollars.
Cost is not the only concern, either. If there is ever a major leak at the Lakeland plant, millions of gallons of water could flow through multiple pieces of private property before it would reach Lake Parker, according to a feasibility study. Additionally, the Lake Wales Ridge has some endangered species unique to the planet.
Some mayors and some commissioners on the PRWC board have expressed a desire to pick and choose specific water infrastructure projects that are best for their respective communities. Some of those plans do not include the need for a desalination plant and could cost much less.
On July 29, the PRWC board will select the mediator who may be able to work out some of those differences.
Time is of the essence to decide. If the PRWC board moves forward with the plan to build two desalination plants, the board is going to need to borrow around $500 million in federal, state and private loans to pay the local share.
PRWC staff are advising the board to apply for a low interest federal loan in the amount of $239 million. The application deadline is in October and the application fee alone could cost taxpayers around $100,000.
If the PRWC board moves forward with the current plan, loan payments will start to become due sometime after 2030. Income from water bill payments will be used to repay the loans.
PRWC staff said it could take multiple mediation meetings before a solution is reached.