Editor's Note: This blog has been updated with information about the status of Tampa Bay Water's lawsuit against HDR. Also, a utility spokesperson indicates that the Sept. 19 vote is being considered "conditional approval."
As the St. Petersburg Times has reported, on Sept. 19, the board of Tampa Bay Water voted 4-3 to approve a $30-million legal settlement with engineering firm HDR over flaws at the utility's reservoir. The utility announced the settlement later that day. The only problem was the vote turns out to not be valid.
That's because the utility's board includes nine members, and its rules mandate that any legal settlement be approved by a minimum of five votes. That demands an additional vote on the matter, which can happen no earlier than the utility's next public meeting, scheduled for Oct. 17.
The lawsuit between Tampa Bay Water and HDR had been scheduled to proceed in federal court in mid-September. Michelle Biddle Rapp, spokeswoman for Tampa Bay Water, says the utility is considering the Sept. 19 vote “conditional approval” of the settlement until the board meets again on Oct. 17. Tampa Bay Water has asked the judge in the case to hold the lawsuit in abeyance until then.
The Times reports that the Sept. 19 vote actually took place in private, due to an exemption in the state's open meetings law. That kept the terms of the settlement hidden from the public. Now, of course, those terms are public.
As part of the conditionally approved settlement, HDR Engineering agreed to pay $30 million to Tampa Bay Water to settle the lawsuit over flaws at the utility's C.W. Bill Young Regional Reservoir. HDR was the engineer for the $140-million construction of the reservoir, which opened in 2005. Just over 12 months later, significant cracking was discovered in the internal embankments of the reservoir.
Tampa Bay Water sued the project team. It recently settled with general contractor Barnard Construction of Bozeman, Mont. The $30-million settlement with HDR would've only partly reimbursed the utility for a portion of the $162.4 million that it will be paying Kiewit Infrastructure Group South to repair and expand the six-year-old facility.
In addition to making the terms of the proposed settlement public, the invalid vote raises the possibility that the board may not approve the measure on Oct. 17. The St. Pete Times described the board as being "sharply divided." Additionally, because the settlement doesn't fully cover the cost of the new project, Tampa Bay Water's general manager Gerald Seeber indicated that water rates may need to be increased to pay for it, the Times reported. Of course, it's possible that now that the potential increase in water rates is public knowledge, it could have an impact on how board members vote.
What do you think about this situation? Let us hear your thoughts.