The four-county water authority voted 3-1 to to buy a $2.1 million administration building in Manatee County, against the wishes of Charlotte County commissioners.

Charlotte County Commissioner Ken Doherty said his board unanimously objects to the price of the Lakewood Ranch building and having it located 45 miles from water treatment and storage operations in DeSoto County. Charlotte County commissioners object to having the building so far away when it benefits only 11 employees.

Doherty also said he does not agree with the authority’s calculation of $3 million to build in DeSoto.

“I was hard pressed to get over $1.8 million,” he said of his own professional pricing efforts. “I would prefer to spend a little bit more time on an objective evaluation.”

But Manatee County Commissioner Priscilla Trace agreed with the authority.

“I think it’s a good deal,” she said. “I think where they’re located now is efficient for the work that they do,” including work with state regulators at the Southwest Florida Water Management District.”

Langford also disagreed with Doherty, even though the vote would keep the facility out of his county.

“It’s been working for us fine,” Langford said. “It is an asset we’ll have in the future.”

The water authority board is made up of four commissioners from four counties, including DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota.

Protesters sound off on Mosaic

Also at the quarterly meeting of the Peace River Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, a dozen protesters of The Mosaic Company addressed the board politely. Their message was that they are not persuaded that the company’s current phosphate mining is not damaging water quality on the Peace River. This was in contradiction to reports by water authority staff saying that the water quality does not appear to be damaged by current mining operations.

“We are here to help you,” said Charlotte County resident Paul DeGaeta, a boat captain and member of the Peace River/Charlotte Harbor Environmental Awareness group, called PREACH. “We will continue to help disseminate information to assist you in doing the right thing on behalf of the people, not profit, as your contacts at Mosaic are only about.”

“I appreciate everyone of you that has come,” said DeSoto Commissioner Elton Langford. Langford led his fellow commissioners this summer in blocking Mosaic from the zone change it needed to expand into DeSoto. He said he can’t do the same on the water authority.

“This board here (the water authority) has no bearing on what happens with Mosaic,” he said.

The authority’s lawyer, Douglas Manson, advised the protesters early in the meeting that the water authority cannot make land use decisions. Mosaic is currently focusing its efforts on county boards to change land use zoning and related permits to expand its operations in Florida communities.

Charlotte County Commissioner Ken Doherty said he was relieved to hear from water authority staff that they have a two-day lead time following any future mining spill upriver, giving it time to shut down water intake. Also, Doherty said it is reassuring to hear that the authority has stored water supply up to seven months in case of a sudden spill.

email:ecalvert@sun-herald.com

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