Tampa Bay Water Sues HydranauticsBy NEIL JOHNSON
CLEARWATER - The region's utility on Friday filed a lawsuit seeking a $24 million bond intended to cover the cost of fixing its ailing desalination plant.
Tampa Bay Water filed the lawsuit against Hydranautics, the company that made the membranes that filter salt from seawater and guaranteed the desalination operation would work, and against two affiliated insurance companies that back the performance bond.
The lawsuit from the region's water supplier in Hillsborough County Circuit Court came two days after the insurance companies, Zurich American Insurance Co. and Fidelity and Deposit of Maryland, filed in federal court in Tampa asking a judge to rule they were not responsible for paying for the plant's problems.
Hydranautics filed a nearly identical federal lawsuit in April.
Although the plant near Apollo Beach does convert saltwater into drinking water, it does not run as efficiently as designed.
The delicate membranes clog more quickly than designed, driving up power costs and forcing the plant to shut down more frequently for cleaning.
Don Conn, general counsel for Tampa Bay Water, said the suit was filed after the insurance companies and Hydranautics did not agree to either fix the plant, hire someone to make it work or pay for the repairs.
``This is the next step,'' Conn said.
Although he had not seen Friday's lawsuit, an attorney for the insurance companies said his clients were not responsible for paying to fix the plant.
``We don't think we have a liability,'' Bruce King said.
Although there are three lawsuits over the same basic issues, the cases probably will be united, either in front of a circuit judge or a federal judge.
There also will be motions from each side to dismiss the other's case, the attorneys said.
Two companies are reviewing operations at the troubled plant to determine what changes are needed to make it run as designed and how much that will cost.
In August, the board of Tampa Bay Water will pick one of the two to fix the plant and run it.
Money from the performance bond would pay for the repairs.
The plant, intended to produce 25 million gallons of water a day, has been running at about 12 million gallons daily during the dry season.
When the utility can take water from rivers and the Tampa Bypass Canal, the plant will be shut down and run at half- capacity one week a month.
Reporter Neil Johnson can be reached at (352) 544-5214.