*Editor's note: This story was corrected on Oct. 19, 2018

The Sunseeker resort plan is not to blame for a projected $24.2 million in upgrades looming over customers of the Charlotte Harbor Water Association.

In contrast, Sunseeker — if and when it is built — could help the association's residential and commercial customers pay the long-term costs of running 54 miles of water pipes.

That was the message from association staff and engineers to about 75 local rate payers at a special meeting held last week at Deep Creek Elementary School in Harbor Heights.

Not everyone was persuaded.

According to information from the water association, there are 1,700 accounts, and about 5,000 customers served. 

"Why do we have to supply water to Sunseeker if our pipes are inadequate to supply their system? Why do we have to foot the bill for their million dollar condos?" asked resident Robert Keene.

Association lawyer Derek Rooney explained that Sunseeker will pay for its own system, including pumping power sufficient to reach nine- or 10-story buildings. The new water lines needed from the wells to U.S. 41 are not related to Sunseeker.

"We're going to be placing those lines no matter what."

Allegiant Travel Company is developing Sunseeker along Charlotte Harbor.

A cost was presented in CHWA document of $3.4 million for a storage and booster station.

The association already has enough water to handle a fully built-out Sunseeker. The resort is projected to have as many as 1,495 condominium units, plus a large pool and other amenities.

To pay for the upgrades, the association will apply for low-interest loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cover almost half of costs. Other expenses will be paid for by grants and by rate payers. That information, along with likely rate increases, will be fleshed out at a Jan. 28 meeting.

The 56-year-old association is private with a water source from wells that draw from aquifers, unlike much of the rest of the county that is public and draws from the Peace River.

Two general issues explain the need for the upgrades. One is the age of the current system, with much of the piping installed in 1962. Since then, the population has increased, as have engineering requirements. The other reason is that the state is expanding Harborview Road from two to four lanes in the next few years. That is where the old water lines run. 

Pipe size is a big problem, Baker said. Almost half of the piping is 2-inch diameter. That size is too small to support properly function fire hydrants. Currently, firefighters use hydrants in the territory only to fill their tanks. Then the truck provides the pumping power. Also, the system needs another 300 hydrants.

Finally, the disposal system for residual water is no longer accepted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said plant engineer Gary ReVoir. The association must build a deep well-injection system. The association currently sends residual water into the San Marino Canal. The EPA has granted the association a rare exception permit to do this for the past few years, and will only allow it for another two years.

Resident and customer Bob Edmonds said he is persuaded that Sunseeker is not the cause of the changes.

"It wasn't them that did it," he told the Sun. "Regardless of Sunseeker coming in or not, there's going to be a requirement that we move utilities. We know changes are going to be made."

* Correction: Sunseeker did not commit to paying $3.4 million toward a $27.6 million infrastructure overhaul for the Charlotte Harbor Water Association.



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