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Aug. 11, 2004: Public Works.com


Large public water supply facilities can take up to a year or more to design, permit and construct. There are usually numerous local, state and federal agencies to coordinate with, in addition to working with general contractors, developers and other private sector companies that may be involved.

The Bellalago Water Supply Facility in Kissimmee, FL, about 15 miles from Orlando, serves as an example of how a public/private sector partnership can fast-track results - from start to finish, the project took only five months. The project is also unique in that is was constructed by a developer, and then turned over to a state governmental utility authority that now operates it.

The Scenario

Bellalago is an Avatar Holdings (www.avatar-holdings.com) development that consists of 1,700 single-family homes, 500 multi-family homes, a commercial/retail center, a church, a day care and schools. Avatar, a public company listed on NASDAQ (AVTR), owns 18,000 acres in Florida and Arizona. The company is engaged in diversified real estate operations, some of which include age-qualified communities in Florida and residential communities in Florida and Arizona. In addition to Bellalago in central Florida, Avatar is also developing communities in Poinciana and Solivita.

According to Tony Iorio, Avatar's Vice President of Development, the company discovered that a potable water distribution system didn't exist in the area when the design plans for the community were drawn up, and the water supplier also didn't have plans for a system extension in the immediate future.

"So we had to start without having a viable water source and realized immediately that the project had to be fast-tracked because we had sales contracts with many residents and they had fixed move-in dates," Iorio said.

The Public/Private Partnership

Avatar retained Berryman & Henigar (www.bhiinc.com), a municipal management consulting engineering firm, which in turn brought in a well drilling company, Hernando, FL-based Citrus Well Drilling, and Beach Construction, a 32-employee, Gainesville, FL state certified general contractor. Berryman & Henigar also served as a liaison with a number of state agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Florida Governmental Utility Authority (FGUA), and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

What enabled the project to be jump-started were a series of pre-application meetings that helped facilitate the permit process, said Frank Huttner, an engineer in DEP's Drinking Water Section.

"By establishing open lines of communications with all the involved parties, we were able to know up front the exact information that was needed in order to issue the required permits," Huttner said. "Bellalago also needed a distribution system in place before the water treatment plant would be finished - this was unusual. But since we knew about this in advance, we were able to keep things on schedule. We often get applications that are half-complete which requires us to send letters requesting additional information. This can extend the process for weeks, sometimes months."

Huttner said the pre-app meetings enabled DEP to quickly review the construction permit application for the water treatment plant. The distribution system projects were permitted separately. DEP also reviewed the design to make sure it complied with Section 62.555 of DEP's administrative code.

Well drilling permits were issued by SFWMD. Ray Townsend, president of Citrus Drilling, said two 16-inch wells were permitted and drilling took about two weeks for each. This included conducting test pumping to verify each well's validity and taking water samples that were then submitted to a lab.

Concurrent with the well drilling were numerous construction jobs, spearheaded by Beach Construction. The company built fencing around the site, did preliminary land clearing (the site was too low and flat), did a lot of dewatering and other necessary prep work.

"We staged the construction in sequences so we could install the hydroneumatic tank, some exterior piping and temporary electrical so water could be supplied to the distribution system across the street in advance of our completing the water treatment plant building," said David Beach, the firm's vice president. "Another key to completing this project in only five months was we hand-controlled the design of instrumentation, controls and electrical, and closely coordinated efforts with our subcontractors."

Beach added that the shop drawing process was streamlined too - the company was able to order switchgear and instrumentation packages without going through shop drawing submittals.

Another important governmental entity that played an important role was FGUA (www.fgua.com). FGUA was created in April 1999 by interlocal agreement entered into by Brevard, Lee, Polk and Sarasota Counties. FGUA is a Governmental Utility Authority (GUA), an innovative home rule mechanism available to Florida counties or municipalities. It enables them to acquire, finance, own and operate a water or wastewater utility.

Charles Sweat serves as FGUA's Director of Operations. Sweat reiterated that the various group meetings were critical to the project's success.

"We knew early on that we needed to upsize some of the components which we paid for," he said. Although it was determined that a 12-inch water main from the water treatment plant was adequate, Sweat asked for a 20-inch water main instead and FGUA paid the difference.

"The developer wanted a 1 MG storage tank, we asked for 1.5 MG to anticipate future growth," Sweat said. "The original concept also called for one water supply well - we asked for two. It was a substantial investment but FGUA will ultimately reap more benefits since we'll have the capacity to increase our customer base without having to make an additional capital investment."

The End Result

The plant was designed, permitted and constructed in two phases. The first phase included plant yard piping, one of the vertical turbine well pumps, the high-service pump building, ground storage tank, and controls. The second phase included the second vertical turbine pump to bring the plant to full capacity.

The new Bellalago water supply facility is now comprised of two 1,200 GPM vertical turbine pumps, a 1.5 MG pre-stressed concrete ground storage tank with a 3,600 GPM aerator, a high-service pump/control building containing one 40-HP jockey pump, two 100-HP high-service pumps, an auxiliary electric power generator with automatic transfer switch, a package hypochlorination system including multiple injection points, and a motor control center with logic board for the plant's operation. The facility was also master planned to eventually include a second 1.5 MG ground storage tank, a third supply well, and two additional high-service pumps.

"Initially having no water was like pushing a rock up a hill and we had to dig ourselves out of a hole," recalled Iorio. "But everything fell into place thanks to a tremendous team effort. The community now has a viable water source that can easily accommodate future growth."

Return to: 2004 Feature Stories