Tampa Bay Water Pays $21M, Ends Court Case of C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir

By Tamas Mondovics

After a nearly eight-year battle, half of which has been unfolding as a court-room drama, the case of the cracked soil-cement at the C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir in Lithia has come to an end with Tampa Bay Water deciding it was time to call it quits, accept defeat and refocus its efforts in the interest of the community.

TBW’s decision to put its legal troubles with HDR Engineering behind them came in the wake of last month’s ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which has affirmed the judgment of the trial court in favor of HDR.

In a statement to the media, TBW officials said, “While the outcome of the appeal was not favorable for the people of the Tampa Bay region, the judicial system has made its decision and the agency must continue to focus its attention on the future. Tampa Bay Water’s number one priority is, and always has been, its commitment to provide clean, safe, drinking water to the region.”

In 2008 Tampa Bay Water filed a federal lawsuit against HDR, and Barnard Construction seeking more than $100 million to repair the reservoir.                                                                                                             TBW continued to pursue the case and rejected a $30-million mediator-initiated settlement offer by HDR, saying that “the amount did not represent a good deal for ratepayers.”

The decision to end the litigation against HDR Engineering over the reservoir’s failed soil-cement liner and to pay HDR Engineering’s legal fees totaling about $21 million, was confirmed by an 8-0, vote of Tampa Bay Water’s board of directors.

The fees include costs for the trial and post-trial proceedings and the appeal and will be paid through funds on hand and according to Tampa Bay Water officials, will not directly affect water rates.

The 15.5 billion gallon, $146 million regional reservoir has been in service for the Tampa Bay community since 2005 and stores water from the Tampa Bypass Canal and the Alafia and Hillsborough rivers and is designed for use during dry times, making the region’s water supply more drought resistant, reliable and flexible.

In 2006, cracks began to form in the facility’s soil-cement erosion control lining, which over time, appeared in several areas, eventually forming on 70 percent of the interior face of the reservoir, prompting the necessary full-scale renovation project with a cost almost as much as it did to build the facility.

“While the outcome has fallen well short of our expectations and was not favorable for the agency, we firmly believe that trying to recoup the public’s investment through legal action was the right decision,” said Pinellas County Commissioner, Susan Latvala, Tampa Bay Water’s Chairman of the Board. “We fought hard for what is right and now we have to do what is in the best interest of the agency and the community to bring this chapter to a close.”

Tampa Bay Water hired Kiewit Infrastructure South to design and build a long-term fix as well as to increase the facility’s storage by three billion gallons.

“The reservoir is now empty,” said project manager, Jon Kennedy. “We will remove all 80 acres of the reservoir’s lining and replace it with a new one, including a rock drainage system.”At a price tag of $129 million, plus legal fees, which pushed the repairs’ total almost $13 million over the original building cost, the region’s reservoir construction is now underway and is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2014.

For more information and updates on the Reservoir Renovation Project, please visit tampabaywa ter.org/reservoir and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.