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Coquina Defund: Palm Coast’s Desalination Hopes Dry Up As Last Partners Drop Out

| June 8, 2011

Palm Coast's last partners are turning their back on funding desalination even as they say it'll be needed. Left, Tom Bartol of the St. John River Water Management District explains the likelyhood of the district eliminating funding soon during Tuesday's desalination group meeting. Richard Adams, who chairs the group, is at center, the water management district's Glenn Forrest is to the right. (© FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast's last partners are turning their back on funding desalination even as they say it'll be needed. Left, Tom Bartol of the St. John River Water Management District explains the likelyhood of the district eliminating funding soon during Tuesday's desalination group meeting. Richard Adams, who chairs the group, is at center, the water management district's Glenn Forrest is to the right. (© FlaglerLive)

The meeting of the Palm Coast-led Coquina Coast Seawater Desalination project this morning was to focus on a few technical issues and the politically sensitive matter of the plant’s location. There was that. The project consultant produced a map showing 14 areas of several hundred acres each, virtually all of them in Palm Coast—and none on beachside—where the eventual $200 million desalination plant might be. (See a map of those locations at the foot of the article.)

But what would normally have been one of the project’s lightning rods, given public interest in—and potential opposition to—colossal utility projects in an urban backyard, proved moot after what happened next: Palm Coast’s last remaining partners are dropping out of the project, making Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts’s warning in late March now closer to reality: absent other partners, Palm Coast would halt the desalination initiative, at least for now.

Leesburg and the St. Johns River Water Management District are Palm Coast’s only partners on the project. They’re carrying almost half the planning cost so far—a cost that, this year alone, amounts to $1.9 million. Palm Coast is carrying the rest. The money is coming out of the city’s utilities pot. Leesburg’s share is $480,000. Two and a half hours into Tuesday’s meeting, Raymond Sharp, Leesburg’s environmental services and public works director, announced that his city would cease its involvement. He spoke so softly that many people in the room—the meeting took place at the Palm Coast Community Center—didn’t hear him.

Sharp specified afterward: “Because of economic conditions and so forth, our water utility fund can no longer support funding for our participation in this project,” Sharp said. “As I recall, had we moved on to phase 2B as it was crafted, our participation would have required $1.5 million—a substantial increase, because a lot of the technical work gets done in 2B. I’m sure Palm Coast faces the same issue of figuring out what to do.”

Before Sharp spoke, the water management district’s Tom Bartol said water management funding is all but certain to cease. “It’s very unlikely that we’ll be funding 2B,” Bartol said. Hwe’d warned the group of just such a likelihood at a previous meeting in light of the Scott administration ordering a cut of around 25 percent in water management budgets across the state. Only this time, the prediction was more dire. “Our budget outlook is worse than it was last year,” Bartol said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s at the discretion of the governing board, but I can tell you from my perspective, it’s worse.” The management district is literally cutting off funding for projects already under way, among them a project it’s funding on State Road 46. He had a message to the diminished Coquina group: “I’d recommend to you to get as much accomplished and invoiced by September 30 as you can,” September 30 being the end of the fiscal year. Some money could carry over. But “the larger that number is, the less chance there is to roll that number over,” Bartol said.

So the discussion after Sharp’s and Bartol’s verdicts turned to a different sort of technicality: how to work out with Malcolm Pirnie, the consultant hired for the project, the best ways to squeeze out what remains of the project’s “deliverable.” The verdicts mean that after more than three years and considerable sums of money spent, desalination—a long shot since it was first proposed—is not in the region’s realistic future.

It’s not just a financial matter. “We still haven’t figured out what the group is going to be,” Richard Adams, head of Palm Coast’s utility and the chairman of the Coquina group, said. “The end of phase 2A is another option—option in, option out, so we don’t know even know who the partners are going to be when we move into phase 2B, we don’t know what the governance is going to be, the owner of the facility, that hasn’t been determined yet.”

Adams said those words during a break in Tuesday’s meeting, before hearing what Leesburg and the water management district said about funding (though Adams said he was surprised by neither). When he was asked about the potential for new partners later, he said he knew of none. Nor has the water management district. “I haven’t heard any, I don’t think the staff has heard any,” the district’s Glenn Forrest said.

When the meeting was over, Adams was more precise about the partnership’s future: “You heard the discussion. Next year is not going to be what we thought it was going to be when we scoped it out. We don’t know what next year is going to be. That’s the discussions we’re going to try to figure out what’s necessary to keep the project going and see if there’s going to be any funding available.

“I think at this point there are no definites where this project is going. And so you can speculate any direction you want to go. It’s my belief, and I think you will hear at the public presentation, the pu8blic meeting, that there still will be a need for alternative water supply, at least in Flagler County and I’m sure elsewhere, whether they recognize that or not, ultimately there will be growth, ultimately there will be a need for alternative water supply and ultimately I think that a project like Coquina Coast will have to move forward. In the current economic condition and the lack of growth, all the participants will have to make some serious considerations and decisions on what makes sense at this time. We know we can’t design and build a multi-million gallon desal plan overnight, so all utilities need to be prepared to move forward when growth returns. If they don’t, then they’re probably not very forward thinking and in a lot of cases that’s because they can’t afford to.”

Can Palm Coast afford it? “Palm Coast can’t afford 2B the way it’s scoped out right now,” Adams said. “And I think you heard the mayor say that a few weeks ago.”

Scouting locations: where the yellowish zones are the 14 large sites being considered for the desalination plant, which would eventually need 30 to 50 acres. Click on the image for larger view.

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5 Responses for “Coquina Defund: Palm Coast’s Desalination Hopes Dry Up As Last Partners Drop Out”

  1. lawabidingcitizen says:

    Palm Coast taxpayers, of whom I am one, paid almost half of the 1.9 million cost of <<>> for this absurdity. That’s pretty darn close to a million bucks tossed down the drain. Add that to $7,000/day for some expert to lead their discussion about how to bring economic development to town even though we already gave Enterprise Flagler a million bucks over the years because they told us they already know how to do just that. They haven’t had one success in over 10 years, but why bother our elected officials with pesky facts and figures, yet they say the city can’t afford to build a fence to keep hoodlums from frightening homeowners near a city park. As if that’s not infuriating enough, city officials are trying to make it into a black/white situation, implying that homeowners wouldn’t be complaining if the kids harassing them were white.

  2. palmcoaster says:

    I though so was the next castle in the sand from the very start over 2 years ago….I even confronted one cocky rep from the SJRWM for closing one of the early meetings jumping over and denying the “public comments item in the agenda” against Florida Law and Roberts Rule. All the big honchos present were border unfriendly with the just few Palm Coast residents in the audience that modestly braved to ask something. After all were our taxes at stake wether utilities funds or not as “we” the city own the utility. I don’t know which rocket scientist maybe; Landon, Wingo , Adams, Netts, Distefano, Meeker or who’s idea was, but like any other pioneer project a very risky one specially in a new America that driven by the Wall Street moguls greed, does not secure a stable economy.
    Now I dismay to find out thanks to Flagler Live how close, as I imagine and because the intra coastal location one of the plants will be to my house. Sure will delight our Grand Haven gated neighbors. Of course will never be planned on the beach as all the wealthy ones will be up in arms and a much bigger fish to fight. Imagine Hammock Dunes and Ginn condos neighboring a desalt plant and its byproducts discharge. They will for sure be taking a saltier swim and maybe also some fowl fragrances as well.
    If we can’t afford to generate anymore water why did we approve the Old Brick Township and the other new development Mr Netts and Landon? What we need are more small businesses to create jobs. No new housing, as we have enough vacant homes in Palm Coast. Who is really to gain from this nonsense? Palm Coast is too small to locate a desalt plant here without compromising our quality of life.

  3. PalmCoastPioneers says:

    Where is da’ 100 acres donation:

    From the Year:


    Dear Palm Coaster
    The year 1980 was an important milestone year for Palm Coast as several
    major projects were finished and others were speeding toward completion.

    Perhaps the most enthusiasm has been generated by the I-95 interchange which
    is soon to be completed at St. Joe Grade Road. The 3.6 million interchange
    will mean less travel time, reduced transportation costs and the ability for
    quicker response to emergency services for Palm Coast residents.

    Palm Coast development – both residential and commercial- experienced a rapid
    growth during the year. In spite of a national downward trend, housing
    starts in Palm Coast continued to show significan increases, up 12 % from

    Palm Coast housing took new directions in 1980, as construction began on a
    number of new model homes. included are luxury homes now under construction
    near the Pine Lakes Golf Course, waterway homes across from the Welcome
    Center, and moderate priced homes off of Belle Terre Parkway North. A total
    of 16 new model shelter units are planned to be opened at various times
    during 1981.

    Contributing significantly to the 1980 total of over 400 housing starts is
    the accelerated condominium activity. Three additional phases ( 76) units
    which are scheduled for completion within the next four months, will bring
    the Fariways condominium complex to a total of 200 units.

    The highlight of commercial activity was the grand opening of The Witteman
    Company headquarters. Formerly based in Buffalo, New York, Wittemann moved
    into their new 1.25 million Palm Coast facility in July, opening 70 jobs
    for the local workforce.

    The response to the newly completed Professional Office Building, which is
    already 75 percent leased, ws so favorable that plans now are being made for
    additional professional office space construction.

    Palm Coast amenities also were in the forefront of the communitys growth
    during the past year. The Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club had its grand
    opeing last Spring, and now hosts many swim meets throughout the year.

    The Palm Coast Marina, one of the finest docking facilities on the Southeast
    Coast, was officially christened last Spring. The Beautiful new Pine Lakes
    Country Club golf course, designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay. held its
    grand opeing in December, and is in excellent playing shape. Final plans
    were approved in late 1980 for the new Bowling Center. This facility, to be
    located on Old Kings’ Road, just west of the shopping center, is scheduled
    for completion during the summer of 1981.

    For Palm Coast clubs and organizationa, 1980 was the busiest year I can
    remember. The Internation Festival, Italian American Fests, Mother Seton
    Church’s annual Oktoberfest, Palm Coast Vicic Associationa July 4th and
    Labor Day celebrations and concerts of classical and jazz music were
    tremendous successes.

    The Flagler Palm Coast Kiwanis Club brought the Circus to town in April, the
    Flagler County Friends of the Library opened a library in the Shopping
    Center, The Italian American Club began construction of their new club
    facility, and the Palm Coast YMCA sponsosred a regional swim meets, soccer,
    and volley ball leagues, parades, dances and parties.

    The relilgious sector of Palm Coast continued to expand in 1980. First
    services were held in March at the New Temple Beth Shalom on Wellington
    Drive, and the Presbyterian Church of Palm Coast broke ground for a worship
    facility of their own on Florida Park Drive.

    As of July, 1980, the Florida Legislature placed Palm Coast Utility
    Corporation under the jurisdiction fo the PSC. Under this new arrangement,
    the Utility has sought and may periodically seek new water and sewer rates,
    fees and charges from the Public Service Commission, Tallahassee, Florida
    32304. where current and pending rates are available.

    Further steps for expanded educational facilities in Flagler County were
    bgun in 1980. a 6 Million school bond isssue received voter approval in
    September, giving the Flagler County School District the go ahead for
    construction of a middle school in Palm Coast. The site consists of 30 acres
    of land, 20 or which were donated by ICDC.

    —————>Agreements were finalized between ICDC and Daytona Beach Community College
    for an ICDC donation of 100 acres to be used in the future as a Flagler
    County branch campus. <——————–

    Palm Coast's growth also was evident in the living rooms of our residents.
    Palm Cable, Inc., continued its expansion program making cable TV service
    available to more than 1,000 homes in Palm Coast. Home Box Office HBO and
    Cinemax are now available to cable TV subscribers. In addition, installation
    of a new satellite receiving station in September made possible the TV
    reception of the Superstation Atlanta's Channel 17.

    Im certain that when the history of Palm Coast is penned sometime in the
    distant future, the year that began the Community's second decade 1980 will
    warrant two chapters instead of one. It has been a year of outstanding
    accomplishment in Palm Coast; one in which we can all take pride, an I look
    forward to even greater growth and progress in the years ahead.
    Alan Smolen.

    The above from: ITT Community Development Corporation, Exective Offices, Palm Coast, Florida 32051 Telephone (904)445-2628

  4. D says:

    Maybe now that all this tax money has been spent (apparently for naught), we will begin to enforce the watering restrictions already on the books and stop planting unsustainable, water sucking, St. Augustine sod!!!

  5. Justice for All says:

    The News Journal reported today that the consultants are still going to hold a meeting at Marineland in August to discuss plant location. Why are they still being paid if this project is dead? What is that going to cost? Who is managing the consultants?

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