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Despite Shelving Desalination, Palm Coast Clings to “Low Pulse” Plans–for $213,000

| July 13, 2011

The gassification end of Palm Coast's newest water treatment plant, which has plenty of future capacity to treat well water. (© FlaglerLive)

It was a rather grim meeting of Palm Coast’s desalination consortium this morning, held at the city’s shiny new water-treatment plant on U.S. 1.

The consortium, once a partnership of a dozen local governments combining dollars and pledges to build a desalination plant somewhere in Flagler County, no longer exists. But at least $213,000 has yet to be spent, possibly more, from the project’s latest phase, which had a total budget of $1.7 million. The question today was what to do with that remaining money, and whether to continue meetings between Palm Coast and its consultant, Tampa-based Malcolm Pirnie.

“The budget turns into a pumpkin at midnight,” Palm Coast Utilities Director Richard Adams said at one point, referring to a September deadline, when all dollars presumably stop. But maybe not quite.

Malcolm Pirnie officials pushed for continuing quarterly meetings: the consultant would paid through carry-overs from money allocated this year. Malcolm Pirnie’s Ed Balchon suggested that it could “keep a pulse, a low pulse,” until the desalination project wins back partners and looks ready to move forward again. In the meantime, Malcolm Pirnie would keep tabs on the science and other factors that would be useful should the project resume.

Adams agreed. “We’d like to do as much as we can do on this project, recognizing that there’s not going to be additional money,” he said.

But it’s still going to be for the Palm Coast City Council to decide. What money remains could also be flowed back to Palm Coast’s utility fund and to two other contributors that are no longer in the consortium–Leesburg and the St. Johns River Water Management District, as other dollars usually are at the end of a budget year, when they’re not spent. The consultants today were making the case to keep that from happening–to keep dollars on the desalination project regardless. That may be a hard sell for council members, who are facing another extremely tight budget year, and talking about eliminating firefighters’ jobs and closing down a firehouse, among other options. Council members would have a difficult time justifying spending another $213,000 on a defunct project, just because the money is in the pipeline.

The partnership was down to just Palm Coast, Leesburg and the St. Johns Water Management District by last month, when Leesburg left and the management district predicted that it would quit contributing about one-third of the project’s costs. Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature ordered the districts around the state to slash budgets and end such involvements as as the desalination partnership. The St. Johns River Water Management District carried out the order. It just eliminated 140 jobs, out of 700, and scaled back its investments, among them desalination.

That left Palm Coast by itself carrying the weight of a project that, even in its scaled-down form, would cost at least $200 million.

Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts had said that without the management district, Palm Coast would have to abandon the project, or at least shelve it for many years. That’s what Palm Coast Utilities Director Richard Adams talked about today with Tampa-based Malcom Pirnie, the consulting firm hired by Palm Coast and the consortium to lead the desalination initiative, officially called the Coquina Coast Desalination project.

The purpose of keeping quarterly meetings of the desalination group going, Adams said, would be to encourage partners to re-join. But even that appears unlikely for now, for the very reasons that partners have dropped out: the cost is too high, budgets are being scaled back, and growth isn’t compelling alternatives on a scale as colossal as desalination.

“I think there are a lot of people who aren’t at this table who have a future need,” Adams said. “Palm Coast for one ultimately recognizes that growth will return and there will be a need for an alternative water project.”

The site of the meeting was a water plant that treats 1.7 million gallons of well water per day. It was built in 2008. The site itself implicitly concedes in its design and projected capacity that desalination was a long shot. The plant is permitted to draw up to 3 million gallons per day from wells. But it is engineered for future expansion to enable twice that capacity or more–not from alternative sources such as desalination, but from current water sources.

The same site is an indication of the changing dynamics of Palm Coast’s needs. There are no plans for expansion at the moment. The site was also to be the location of a new wastewater treatment plant. That plant probably won’t be built for several years yet–not until significant growth resumes.

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5 Responses for “Despite Shelving Desalination, Palm Coast Clings to “Low Pulse” Plans–for $213,000”

  1. PalmCoastPioneers says:

    ITT Levitts’ *braintrust* planned for and documented adequate water supply for a City comprised of 750,000 people at build out – and those projections were before low flow toilets, low flow sprinklers, low flow shower heads, energy conservation mindedness, etc.,
    Orlando Sentinel
    ‘Tis a Privilege to Live in Central Florida

    Preservers Applaud Palm Coast
    By Peggy Poor
    Sentinel Staff
    Dramatically changing the damaged image of usually damned developers, ITT Levitt Corp., now buildling Palm Coast, the country’s largest housing project in Flagler County, is winning kudos instead of kicks from conservationists.
    More than that, with long-range environmental planning and careful study by staff
    ecologists, the mammoth venture may not only set an example for future would be despoilers but come up with some urgently sought answers to pollution problems.
    For Example, ITT Levitt scientists are investigating why St. Johns and Flagler County shellfish harvests had to be prohibited because of contaminated waters. The hope s to reverse conditions that required the ban, if possible.
    Preliminary findings indicate sewage dumped principal culprit, according to Dr. Stanley Dea, the firm’s chief ecologist.
    Therefore, in order not to aggravate th situation, ITT Levitt is making a detailed engineering analysis of sewage disposal possibilities to come up with designs new for Florida, and cheaper, Dr. Dea said.
    Because Florida’s flat terrain and high ground water level have made gravity systems costly, developers have tended to use septic tanks. But septic systems have become a serious factor in the pollution picture.
    America’s biggest conglomerate, therefore, is exploring feasibility of pressure and vacuum systems which may be tried for the first time in the Florida venture.
    Meanwhile, in the first section now under construction, 20,000 acres of the total of 100,000, sewage will get secondary treatment, prior to storage in a polising lagoon, providing tertiary treatment. Effluent thus purified but still nutrient rich will be used to irrigate an 18 Hole golf course.
    Sewage Studies
    This recycling, by an adaptation of nature’s own system, is a relatively new concept in sewage disposal developed at Pennsylvania State University and now in use in several California communities and in one near Tallahassee.
    Much of the polution and “mrder’ of streams, and lakes, such as Apopka, is the result of eutrophication or over-enrichment by nutrients, which are not removed by treatment plants.
    As most plants discharge into some body of water, pollution results. If , however, the treated effluent is sprayed on vegetation, as was demonstrated at Penn State and is planned for Palm Coast, it irrigates and fertilizes crops and even raises the ground water table. The vegetation absorbs the nutrients that would eventually destroy streams, lakes, and estuaries.
    Using Willows
    Palm Coast ecologists plan to plant Florida vegetation and particularly high absorption qualities, such as willows.
    Engineers have devised a mechanical apparatus which can fit in a residential size and style bulding, so the neighborhood view will not be spoiled by an unsightly treatment plant. A chemical has been developed that eradicates the odor, according to Dick Beidl, Palm Coast public affairs officer.
    The University of Florida’s famed coastal engineering department, whose $1 million facilities are now considered unexcelled in the United States, is advising how best to lay out the system of canals for waterfront property so that tidal action will keep them flushed clean, Beidl said.
    A brief flurry of local fears that the big dredge churning inland from the Intracoastal Waterway channel to scoop out a yacht basin would increase turbidity in the estuaries has been set at rest.
    Dike Employed
    Although the dredge is operating in a man made cut not subject to provisions of the Randall Act, ITT Levitt will still ‘plug’ the opening into the Intracoastal with a dike until its earth stirring digging is completed and settled.
    “It’s the cleanest operation I’ve seen. No problems”, said Larry Shanks, of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission at Vero Beach, who inspected the site last week.
    The Operation is pumping the material removed by a 1 1/4 mile pipe line that crosses the waterway and runs under highway A1A.
    With a 1100 housepower booster pump the excavated sand is being hoisted up and down over this uneven course to fill a depression just behind the sand dunes which rim the ocean shore.
    The hole will be filled to a height of about 20 feet above sea-level about even with the dunes; and this will be the site of a motel, probably to be operated by Sheraton, another ITT subsidiary.
    Dunes Retained
    Shands had nothng but praise also for this beachfront plan which contemplates leaving the natural dunes as a stabliizer against erosion.
    Palm Coast experts are also studying the whys and wherefores of erosion and exploring preventative treatment, according to Dea.
    Palm Coast has also handed its brain trust the choking problem of weed eradication, he said.
    At the display site, where six model homes and four story office building with viewing tower are under construction, bulldozers wove an intricate path around trees marked for salvation instead of knocking everything down.
    This more costly method has won approval of forestry officials, and Palm Coast expects it to pay off in long-run appeal of attractive landscaping to prospective purchasers.
    Space Advantage
    In the master land use plan, thousands of acres will be presserved in the natural state, Dea said.
    Additionally, there will be parks and artificial ribbon lakes, Studies are being made to ascertain optimum factors for maintaining maximum sport fish populations in these.
    Palm Coast’s planning advantage, Beidl said, lies in having control of the entire 100,000 acres. To get this vast land area in focus, it can be compared with the area of all five boroghs of Greater New York City, for example, which cover only about half that territory, or with the city of Detroit which spreads over about 88,000 acres.
    ——->Projection is for an ultimate population here of only about 750,000 as compared with New York’s 11.5 million and Detroit’s four million.<——–
    An area comparison closer to home is with the Disney's 27,000 acres.
    Strict Zoning
    The assure adherence to this careful planning. Dr. Dea said is a model zoning and building code is being formulates, which will not merely meet, but 'exceed' in stringency all federal state, and local regulations, including those necessary to control air, water, solid waste, radiation, noise, and vibration pollution.
    This will cover not just major regulations affecting industries which might be attracted to the area, but also folksy questions such as when and even whether residences may have trash incinerators in their back yards.
    Even one possible future doubt raised apparently will be resolved in favor of conservation, according to Harold 'Burrows, and engineer on the project.
    Line Questioned
    Question arose at a recent country commisiioners meeting about a bulkhead line
    for Longs Creek, which branching off the Matanzas River, meanders through the tract a few miles north of the first 'Five Year Plan' development now under construction.
    some 3,000 to 9,000 on the creek, are submerged public lands under control of the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund.
    Burrows conceeded that prior to recent legislative action, this would have beenn 'prime development property'.But under present law 'we will sit down with the Department of Natural Resources and do what they tell us we can."
    AD 2531
    ( further data also in '…an approach to a New City: Palm Coast…..' by Dr. J. Norman Young and Dr. Stanley Dea )

  2. Heather says:

    Consultants over firefighters? True the funds, no doubt, don’t come from the same pot but still the optics on this article and yesterdays are not good.

  3. Ralph Belcher says:

    I think it was the State of FL that came down the the mandate that alternate sources of water be found as to alleviate some of the draw of drinking water from the aquafer. The current aquafer will continue to support projected population growth from what I have been told. I forget if there was anything else behind the state’s rationale.

  4. palmcoaster says:

    Sorry Ralph was not the state mandate. These Coquina Desalt Plant meetings started over two years ago and before well over million spent on these consultants. Was a Palm Coast utility initiative supported by the St. Johns River Water Management District that partially funded the idea as well.
    Now they need to do away and stop the waste and the PC Utility needs to save those 213,000 for rainy days and end if temporarily or for good, this mirage project.

  5. Jim J says:

    Agree – the Desalt Plant was not a state mandate. Palm Coast should never have gone down the desalt road – but many in the administration and utility department – would not even consider any other alterantives they just had blinders on. Again a big waste of money

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