Commissioners approve series of steps regarding funding and oversight of project
In the summer of 2019, faced with a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by a number of environmental organizations — as well as Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) demands to stop illegal spills from a wastewater pond — the Sarasota County Commission agreed to convert its Bee Ridge Wastewater Treatment Plant to Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) status.
The switch would achieve a significant reduction in the amount of red-tide producing nutrients entering Sarasota Bay, then-interim Public Utilities Director Mike Mylett told the board members.
Earlier that year — on May 8, 2019 — staff had pointed out to commissioners that the Bee Ridge facility puts about 238,000 pounds of nitrogen a year into the area waterways. The AWT conversion would reduce that to 38,000 pounds a year.
Red tide researchers have explained that nitrogen is the primary food for the red tide algae, Karenia brevis.
The commissioners also agreed to expand the capacity of the Bee Ridge plant from 12 million gallons per day to 18 million gallons per day.
Ultimately, the commissioners have committed to spending about half-a-billion dollars on the county’s three primary wastewater treatment plants. Along with the Bee Ridge facility, located at 5550 Lorraine Road in Sarasota, the others are the Venice Gardens Wastewater Treatment Facility (WRF), located at 375 Venice E. Blvd., and the Central County WRF, which stands on Palmer Ranch in Sarasota.
On Feb. 23, the board members took the next step in the process of upgrading the facilities, voting unanimously to authorize the borrowing of $23,686,000 from the Pooled Commercial Paper Loan Program of the Florida Local Government Finance Commission to finance the Bee Ridge WRF work.
Greg Rouse, the engineering manager for the county’s Public Utilities Department, explained that that would serve a bridge loan to get the project started.
A staff memo provided to the board members in advance of the meeting explained that the borrowing arrangement will be a short-term one — for “only a few months.” It includes no prepayment penalties if the county decides to refinance or repay the loan before the stated maturity date. Interest rates are estimated between 1.5% and 2%, the memo added, though “the rates will float based upon interest market conditions …” Therefore, the memo said, staff will monitor the market.
The short-term loan “will be repaid with a long term bond,” the memo continued, which will be repaid out of utility revenue and fees.
In related action, the commissioners also adopted a budget amendment to appropriate $45,186,000 for the project, and they approved an amendment to a contract with Garney Companies Inc. for construction services associated with the undertaking. (Garney’s headquarters is in Kansas City, Mo.) That increased the amount Garney will receive from the county from $1,727,543.40 to $34,492,447.40. The funding is for what Rouse of Public Utilities Department, explained is the Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) for the first phase of work at the Bee Ridge facility.
As Levelset explains, “A guaranteed maximum price contract sets a limit, or maximum price, that the customer will have to pay their contractor or subcontractor, regardless of the actual costs incurred. In its simplest form, a guaranteed maximum price contract simply puts a cap on the contract price that can’t be exceeded. Costs beyond that guaranteed maximum price may need to be covered by the contractor or sub.
“GMP contracts are attractive to customers because they shift a significant amount of risk to the party performing work. Plus, it gives a clean, easily understandable price.”
The GMP 1 activities outlined in the Feb. 23 county staff memo will “carry us through the end of the year,” Rouse told the commissioners. Later this year, he said, staff would be back before them to seek formal approval for the GMP 2 phase.
The memo said the funding for the GMP 2 work “is expected to be presented to the Board [members] for their consideration in October 2022.”
A March 22 ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned at the site, Rouse added, after which the project formally will get underway.
The staff memo further noted that the completion of both the AWT conversion and expansion “is slated for June 2025, if not sooner.”
Under the terms of a Consent Order that the commissioners unanimously agreed to with FDEP over the problems at the Bee Ridge WRF, the AWT process must be finished by the end of 2025.
Yet one more facet of the Feb. 23 commission motion authorized County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to approve a purchase order with FilmTec Corp. of Allentown, Penn., for the direct purchase of a critical piece of equipment for the Bee Ridge project — a membrane bioreactor filtration system. The total expense will be $5,647,782.24, according to documents provided to the commissioners.
That step will mark the first time the county uses what Rouse described as an “owner-direct pilot purchase program”; it will save taxpayers $344,000.
Staff plans to use that same process with other facets of the upgrades of the wastewater facilities, he added.
The importance of the day’s votes
After Rouse concluded his remarks, Commissioner Christian Ziegler noted, “The presentation was kind of quick, given what we’re doing here.” Ziegler added, “This is a big milestone.” A prior commission probably should have pursued the overhaul of operations at the Bee Ridge WRF, he pointed out.
Then Ziegler said, “I’ve been told by experts that we will be the No. 1 public wastewater utility in the entire country,” following completion of the projects the commissioners have agreed to for the three major wastewater treatment facilities. Only Disney, he said, which is a private entity, will be ahead of the county in terms of its handling of wastewater. “This is a big deal.”
Ziegler also offered his thanks to county residents for their calls for the projects to be pursued. “We’ve listened to you,” Ziegler added.
Chair Alan Maio noted that the projects include the hurricane hardening of the structures in the three county locations.
Ziegler made the motion to approve the steps staff had recommended for the board that day, and Commissioner Ron Cutsinger seconded it.
After the 5-0 vote, Maio pointed out that he always asks for any “No” votes, after calling for those in favor of a motion. In this case, he continued, “I almost said, ‘I dare you,’” in case anyone did oppose the funding for the work.