Future projects, water usage to be discussed at meeting

■  BY THE GASPARILLA ISLAND WATER ASSOCIATION     

The Gasparilla Island Water Association’s annual membership meeting is planned for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017 at the Boca Grande Community Center.

GIWA has been busy with current and future improvements to both water and wastewater treatment facilities.

Currently under construction is an expansion to the water treatment facilities, including two new deep wells north of the existing facility. Brandes Design Build, Inc. was awarded this project for a total contract amount of $3,742,450.

Both wells have been drilled, and the Association is pleased to announce that both the quantity and quality of water from them far exceeds expectations.

The reverse osmosis plant will be rehabilitated, with changes that will allow the plant to operate more efficiently and increase production capabilities to 194,000 gallons per day. The increased capacity will reduce our dependence on Charlotte County utilities during peak flow periods. This project is financed with a 1.16 percent 20-year loan through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF).

Board members say the biggest challenge of 2016 has been to determine the most cost-effective option to rehabilitate the existing wastewater treatment facility that is nearing the end of its useful life, and how to finance the expenditure. Limited space, a short season for heavy construction work on the golf course and access over the Gasparilla Inn Golf Course Bridge make this project very challenging and costly. The board has carefully reviewed many options over the past couple of years, including the combination of new structures and rehabilitation of some existing structures. The board has determined that the most cost-effective option is to construct new structures but refurbish some of the existing tanks.

Two separate structural engineers have inspected and assured GIWA that this is a feasible option. The new wastewater treatment facility will include the most up-to- date treatment methods that will treat the wastewater to a much higher quality. The reclaimed water from the plant should meet any new future requirements. Initial cost estimates are between 13 and 15 million dollars.

This capital improvement is timed to coincide with the retirement of our oldest loans that start to mature in 2019, which will free up some cash to repay new debt, but it is still a very large financial undertaking for us.

GIWA is not eligible at this time to finance wastewater projects through the low-interest SRF fund, but the State is considering changes to their rules to make nonprofit utilities eligible for wastewater loans. Our current plan includes financing through our current lender, CoBank. GIWA’s water and wastewater rates were last adjusted in 2009, or about eight years ago.

GIWA’s board of directors contracted with Public Resources Management Group, Inc. to conduct an in-depth analysis of GIWA’s financial needs, both current and future. Their review included recommendations for a series of rate adjustments designed to ensure that GIWA can obtain necessary financing for the wastewater treatment plant project. GIWA anticipates that, with these adjustments, GIWA’s rates would remain competitive with those of surrounding communities. Once the wastewater treatment plant rehabilitation project plans are finalized, and estimated construction costs are firmed up, GIWA will review the rate increases proposed for 2018-2020 and adjust lower if possible.