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The Award Winning & Best News on Anna Maria Island, FL Since 1992

"The Award Winning & Best News on Anna Maria Island, FL Since 1992"

Friday, Aug, 1, 2014
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Bat facts; desal's DBOOT decision; sink it!

Bats are our friends.

That's the message that's being sent out just before Halloween by the Nature Conservancy, an international nonprofit group that preserves plants and animals by purchasing native habitat and protecting it from development.

In fact, without bats there probably would be no margaritas. Bats, it seems, are the pollination source for agave, the key ingredient in tequila. No bats, no pollination of agave flowers, no more agave, no more tequila.

There are 1,100 bat species found worldwide, which means that bats comprise about one-quarter of all the mammal species found on the planet. Bats are found in every state in the United States.

And they're insect gluttons. A single small bat can gobble up to 1,200 mosquitoes a night, and often eats its weight in bugs in an evening.

Bats range in size from the Bumble Bee bat of Thailand, which is about the size of a thumbnail. The largest bat is the South Pacific's "flying fox," which has a 6-foot wingspan. There are three species of vampire bats of the 1,100; none live in the United States, although the states are home to 40 species of bats.

You've got to admit that listening to the quiet little squeak of bats beats the drone of mosquitoes any night.

Desal described

Got an interesting e-mail from Chris Hart the other day. He's the president of Coastal Water Resources LLC, former board member of Tampa Bay Water, former Hillsborough County Commissioner, and was involved in the creation of the huge Apollo Beach water desalination plant that, one day, will produce up to 35 million gallons of drinking water daily for residents.

The plant has been plagued with a series of filtration problems and is not meeting its goals for straining bay water and turning it into drinking water. Hart said part of the problem lies in the fact that the plant is the largest of its kind in the world and there are some bugs that need to be worked out.

He also mentions the specter of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States as stunting financial markets worldwide.

Anyway, here's part of Hart's note regarding the desal plant.

"Yes, it's having startup problems primarily in water filtering but this was anticipated by experienced professionals. So, as we consider our next move, and our next desal plant, it's important for us to understand how we got here as we rethink our strategy for using desalination plants to increase the public water supply.

"As a Hillsborough county commissioner, I served on Tampa Bay Water's board where decisions were made to develop the desal project.

"The desalination plant was developed using a DBOOT design, build, own, operate and transfer model, tied to a water purchase agreement. According to the Tampa Bay Water staff, DBOOT was the way to go. Given the nature of the project and its $110 million price tag, it was smart to leverage our limited public funds and let the private sector compete to build and operate it. The board agreed. Let the private sector take the risk, let them invest, and let them have an incentive to do it right the first time. And for that risk, we guaranteed them a long-term, fair rate of return.

"When the call for projects went out, multi-billion dollar, multi-national corporations competed to win the contract. How could we lose? After the proposals were thoroughly examined, Poseidon Resources, a private company that develops and finances water projects, prevailed. Stone and Webster Engineering, a long-respected firm, was their contractor. Poseidon had experience in membrane treatment and a good reputation in the industry. They also had the most innovative design and the best price.

From the start, there were those who said the desal plant wouldn't work; it would harm the bay, or would be more costly than projected. I had been a devil's advocate too, questioning every aspect. But after thorough due diligence, the state approved the permit application, and it even prevailed in a court challenge. The application withstood environmental scrutiny and included extensive safeguards for the public, at little risk to Tampa Bay Water. The water purchase agreement guaranteed our water costs for the next 30 years. Equally important, the private sector assumed the risk of permitting and developing the project, and financially backed it.

As events unfolded, Stone and Webster went bankrupt, but that didn't affect Tampa Bay Water because the contract was with Poseidon. They had to deliver or we wouldn't pay. Poseidon replaced Stone and Webster with Ogden Energy, a company that was doing very well. Despite these challenges, the project stayed on time and on budget. Ogden Energy changed its name to Covanta Tampa, the project moved forward and construction began.

"In December 2001, Covanta's contract required it to post a second performance bond to guarantee the plant's success. Following that, Poseidon and Tampa Bay Water could bond the project. But Covanta had problems. A series of unanticipated events, the energy crisis and Sept. 11 among them found the company in trouble and our nation's economy deeper in recession. By February 2002, Poseidon completed arrangements for another financing package so the plant could go forward with bonding. However, by spring, the Tampa Bay Water staff decided that the greatest risk in the project was permitting, and with that completed, the best cost-saving move was to buy out Poseidon. Tampa Bay Water's management stated that it could deliver water at a rate of $1.43 per thousand gallons compared to Poseidon's rate of $1.71. The board faced this dilemma with great uncertainty on one hand, and potential financial savings on the other. With limited time to act, the board reluctantly agreed to the realignment, but kept Covanta as the contractor.

"Earlier this year, Tampa Bay Water made great claims of success, but we now know that the plant has not operated as planned, that performance tests have been plagued with problems still unresolved and water costs are $2.02 per thousand gallons! Now, the news is dominated by the contest between Covanta and Tampa Bay Water, each finger-pointing at the other. Are lawsuits next? I expect this will continue until the plant is operational."

Perhaps the Tampa Bay Water desal plant is indeed the never-ending story.

Aircraft carrier bids

Psst! Wanna buy an aircraft carrier? Cheap?

Get in line.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will meet in a special session Nov. 14 to revisit its decision regarding proposed siting of the aircraft carrier "Oriskany." The group had previously agreed to recommend to the Navy and Maritime Administration to turn the decommissioned 888-foot-long ship over to the state, which would sink it about 20 miles offshore of Escambia County in the Florida Panhandle, turning it into the country's largest offshore artificial reef.

However, the Navy changed its guidelines for selection of sites for decommissioned vessels, and the FWC has opened the whole matter up again for review. Miami-Dade and Broward counties are in the running, as is Volusia County. Texas is also talking to the Navy about having the ship sunk in its waters. FWC will make a recommendation to the Navy, which will have the final say in the matter.

So what's the big deal about sinking a ship offshore?

Gazillions of dollars to the community that abuts the wreck in dive revenue.

The folks at Sea Trek Divers in Bradenton Beach estimate that about a dozen people dive on the "Regina" in the course of a week. The "Regina" is the old molasses barge that sunk just offshore of Seventh Street North in 1940. The wreck is only a short swim from shore, making it popular, but it's not one of the more stellar dives in the world at least not as spectacular as an aircraft carrier would be.

Mix in the fishing potential a wreck that size could produce, and you've got a real offshore destination. The city near it would also become the place to go for a good, watery time.

Sandscript factoid

Although some bats migrate south for the winter months, others hibernate the way through the cold. The bat's system can shut down so far that a bat will wake up in the spring even if it's encased in ice.

Oh, and bats can live to more than 30 years of age, and females generally have one pup a year.

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