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Flagler to Desal Group: Nice Knowin’ Ya

| April 5, 2010

Coquina's Desalination Boondoggle in Flagler County

Two years and $16,600 after joining two other counties and five cities in exploring a desalination venture for Northeast Florida, Flagler County commissioners today voted unanimously to abandon the consortium, deeming it too costly for too little–and too uncertain–a return. Beverly Beach and Flagler Beach are also considering dropping out of the Coquina Coast Seawater Desalination Project, casting doubt on the project’s future. The consortium is led by the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Money was the deciding factor for Flagler commissioners: They were uninterested in paying $50,000 to remain part of the consortium, without a vote, and with urgency for a desalination option nowhere near what it may have been when Flagler was experiencing record growth. Water demand is 3 million gallons-a-day lower today than when the desalination project was proposed two years ago. But commissioners Milissa Holland and Barbara Revels were openly dismissive of a project predicated on encouraging water and energy consumption rather than conservation.

“Are we spending money just to spend money or is there an end game that county staff looking at,” Holland asked. “I’m still a very strong advocate of conservation methods, and I think that has to be first and foremost implemented throughout the county.”

Flagler joined the consortium in May 2008 as a full-partner “supplier.” The designation gave Flagler a weighted vote on the consortium’s board in exchange for an initial $10,000 rate in the first phase of the project. The year-long first phase amounted to figuring out whether the proposed desalination plant would be based on a ship or on land. No ship-based plant has ever functioned in North America. Coquina opted for a land-based option.

Phase 2 conducting several studies to determine whether desalination is a suitable choice for local counties and cities. “Desalination will be pursued only if studies show the environment will be protected,” the management district says. But Phase 2 also meant a vast increase in payments from participating governments. To remain a voting partner on the consortium, Flagler would have had to pay between $73,000 and $78,600, and $50,000 just to remain on the board–without a say on the consortium’s decisions.

County Administrator Craig Coffey recommended that the county be a “supporter,” which adds up “to basically no status. When I said supporter, it’s basically moral support, cheerleading.”

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