Water authority votes to keep law firm
By NEIL JOHNSON
Tribune Staff Writer 5. 2./.. /
CLEARWATER The area's
water wholesaler narrowly rejected
adding more litigation to the al-
ready expensive dispute with the
water management district over
Had the board agreed with Don-
ald-Conn, attorney for the West
Coast Regional Water Supply Au-
thority, cases that already have cost
the public more than $1 million and
are set to start in July could have
Conn asked for permission to
chfilenge how the. Southwest Flori-
da Water Management District sets
water levels that would control
pumping on new wellfield permits.
West Coast would have to reduce
pumping if groundwater and sur-
face water around wellfields fall be-
low the levels.
The levels are a key division be-
tween the two sides in lawsuits over
permits issued at four wellfields
West Coast controls.
West Coast operates wellfields
providing water to Pasco, Hillsbor-
ough and Pinellas counties and the
cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg.
The water district sets different
levels for each permit. Conn wanted
to challenge that before the gover-
nor and Cabinet and make the dis-
trict use a process that is longer,
more complex and not specific to
Some board members said that
was meddling. The Legislature
passed a bill giving the water dis-
trict a deadline to set the levels in
the Tampa Bay area.
"I don't think we should be get-
ting involved in this," said Ed Col-
lins, Pasco County Commission
chairman. "It exceeds our authori-
ty. We're trying to circumvent the
intent of the Legislature."
The West Coast representatives
from Pasco, Hillsborough and Tam-
pa voted against the recommenda-
tion. Members from St. Petersburg
and Pinellas County were in favor.
Conn also said the law firm rep-
resenting the water district in the
wellfield cases may have a conflict
because it had done work for West
Coast from 1991 to 1993.
John Wilcox, an attorney for
Ackerman, Senterfitt & Eidson, of
Tampa told the board no attorneys
who handled work for West Coast
were involved in the wellfield law-
Pinellas Commissioner Charles
Rainey said West Coast could ask
the Florida Bar to decide if there
was a conflict
West Coast also could have filed
a request for the hearing officer in
the wellfield dispute to remove the
law firm from the cases.
By the same 3-2 vote, West Coast
members decided the law firm did
not have a conflict if lawyers who
handled West Coast's work earlier
were not involved in the new case.
Hillsborough Commissioner Ed
Turanchik said the law firm might
be forced to resign from the case,
adding further delay.
"Every lawyer in this is paid for
by the public. If Ackerman, Senter-
fitt & Eidson steps down, the water
management district will have to go
out and hire another bunch of law-
yers paid for by tax dollars. Not one
of my constituents would under-
stand that, and I can't blame them."
Peter Hubbell, executive direc-
tor of the water district, said chang-
ing law firms now would delay the
permit trial by six months to a year.
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