BY BONNIE PRINGLE, GIWA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR – GIWA is excited to announce that after several years of planning, Phase 1 of a much-needed $15 million rehabilitation of the Island’s water reclamation facility (WRF), located on The Gasparilla Inn Golf Course, is underway. A WRF is a wastewater treatment plant that reclaims or recycles wastewater into water that can be reused for beneficial purposes, including golf course irrigation. The upgraded facility will utilize current state-of-the-art treatment processes and equipment. The reclaimed water from the plant will meet current regulations as well as anticipated future regulations.
To minimize the impact on golfers on The Gasparilla Inn Golf Course, our lease with The Inn allows construction of the new facilities between May 1 and November 15. Work completed while the course is still open will be carefully coordinated with The Inn. With this short construction season, GIWA will complete the project in phases over a three- to four-year period. This will require careful planning to take full advantage of our “construction season” which is set to begin construction May 1 of each year. During the construction “off-season,” contractors and equipment will be procured and organized so we are ready to begin the next phase each year.
Construction this summer includes the installation of a new generator, clearing and earthwork, and relocating underground electric lines and water and sewer piping to free the site for the location of a new tank that will be constructed next summer.
The short construction season is only one challenge for this project. The higher weight limits now allowed on the Boca Grande Causeway bridges make this project feasible, but we still have a weight-limit issue with the golf course bridge. The existing bridge to the golf course will not handle the loads necessary to construct the new facility. Our engineers and our Board of Directors have determined that the most practical way to solve this problem will be to construct a temporary bridge like the one used while building the southernmost Boca Grande Causeway bridge. This temporary bridge will be located just north of the existing golf course bridge. It will not allow boat traffic to pass through this area during the months we are under construction. Boaters will still have the option to use the north channel between Boca Grande Isles and the golf course or the south channel out of Boca Grande Marina. The center span of the bridge will be removed and stored at the end of each construction season, allowing boat traffic to flow unhindered again until construction starts the following May 1.
Phase 2 of the project will be completed in the summer of 2019. The temporary bridge will be installed, and a new concrete tank along with associated mechanical equipment will be put in place. To accomplish this over the summer months, precast concrete walls for the tank will be manufactured off island in the construction “off-season.” This will also greatly reduce the concrete truck traffic attributed to our project on the island’s roads .
Phase 3 is planned for the summer of 2020 and will include rehabilitation of an existing concrete treatment plant, which will then be converted to a cutting-edge treatment system of which we can all be proud.
At our 2017 annual meeting, the membership approved a series of rate increases designed to ensure GIWA could obtain necessary financing for the wastewater treatment plant project and maintain sound financial conditions by meeting existing and future annual debt service and debt financial covenants. These rate increases will also help us maintain adequate funding for operation and maintenance of the water and wastewater systems, including renewals and replacements. Adequate cash reserves will also be insured. The rate increases approved were 9.5 percent effective April 1, 2017 and October 1, 2017, and up to 9.5 percent effective October 1 of 2018, 2019 and 2020.
The first two rate increases were put into effect, and we have seen the expected positive impact on our financial statements. Your Board of Directors carefully reviewed our financial statements to determine if the full 9.5% rate increase is necessary this year. With rising interest rates and construction costs that will impact the water reclamation facility project, they determined that the full 9.5% increase effective October 1, 2018 is necessary. The Board wants to assure you that our financial statements will be thoroughly analyzed next summer to determine if the full rate increase is required in 2019 or if a lesser amount will be sufficient to keep GIWA in sound financial condition.
An expansion to the water treatment facilities including two new deep wells north of the existing facility was completed in December 2017. With this project, the reverse osmosis process was upgraded to a modern design that allows the plant to operate more efficiently and produce an additional 194,000 gallons per day.
Reverse osmosis (RO) is a water treatment process that removes contaminants from water by using pressure to force water molecules through a semipermeable membrane. During this process, the contaminants are filtered out and flushed away, leaving clean, safe drinking water. GIWA’s RO plant treats brackish water – water that has more salt than freshwater but not as much as seawater.
Prior to this expansion, during dry periods GIWA’s water treatment plant could not produce enough water to keep up with demand. To supplement our production, an average of 20- to 30-thousand gallons of water per day was purchased from Charlotte County Utilities. With the upgrades in service, GIWA did not need to purchase any water to supplement our own production this year. Producing as opposed to purchasing is a cost saving, because GIWA can produce our own water much more cost-effectively than purchasing.
This project was financed with a 1.16 percent 20-year loan through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF). The project was originally scheduled for completion in January 2017; however, our chosen contractor went out of business. Completion of the project was taken over by the surety company holding their performance bond.
The original contract amount of $3,742,450 was reduced by almost $500,000, because contingency funds were not used, some items that were not critical to the project were not completed, and GIWA assessed liquidated damages due to construction delays by the responsible contractor. FDEP has agreed to allow GIWA to use the excess funds to upgrade our older deep wells to the new technology used in the two new deep wells.