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John’s Island ‘not giving up’ on pipeline project


A controversial proposal to run a reuse water pipeline beneath the Indian River Lagoon to provide irrigation water for John’s Island – which was blocked by the County Commission on a 3-to-2 vote last week – may go back to commissioners in a month or two.

“We’re not giving up on the subaqueous line because we still feel it’s the best option for . . . [our] needs,” said John’s Island General Manager Michael Korpar. “That’s the route we’re still shooting for.”

The fate of the $6 million pipeline appears to hinge on the results of a title search on Hole in the Wall island to determine whether the county owns the right-of-way once occupied by the Old Winter Beach Road Bridge.

Commissioners voted on April 23 to reject John’s Island’s easement request mainly over concerns about the right-of-way ownership and the likelihood of legal challenges.

In response, John’s Island’s legal team is now trying to acquire title insurance indicating the county owns the right-of-way on the island in the lagoon, Korpar said in an interview Friday.

If the title insurance is obtained, the barrier island community will again ask commissioners to approve a temporary construction easement on Hole in the Wall island for the pipeline project.

Under the proposed agreement, John’s Island would pay for construction of the pipeline and then turn it over to the county, which would own and maintain it. In return, the county would sell reuse irrigation water to John’s Island at a reduced rate for 25 years.

The pipeline would begin at the county’s Sea Oats Wastewater Treatment Plant on 77th Street, go south on Dixie Highway and then turn east to the lagoon, run for a mile under the lagoon at a depth of 90 feet, continue east along Old Winter Beach Road on the island adjacent to The Shores subdivision and then go south along A1A to John’s Island.

The lush country club community needs 1 million gallons of re-use water per day to irrigate landscaping, lawns and golf courses, and doesn’t consider other reuse pipelines a sufficiently dependable source, Korpar said.

More than 200 people packed the commission chambers in the morning when this came up last week and about half were still there for the late afternoon vote.

Several environmental leaders argued it was too risky to install a pipeline carrying treated sewage water beneath the Indian River Lagoon when the estuary has already been badly damaged by pollution. They contended there are safer ways to provide reuse water to John’s Island.

After the vote, environmental activists lauded the commission for protecting the lagoon.

“The lagoon had a big win today,” said Leesa Souto, executive director of the Marine Resources Council. “For once, the natural resources are on the winning side. We all have a lot to lose from the lagoon’s continuing demise.”

Commissioners Joe Flescher and Peter O’Bryan questioned the wisdom of granting the easement, considering that county attorney Dylan Reingold had earlier described the right-of-way issue as “murky.”

Commissioner Susan Adams voted with O’Bryan and Flescher to block the pipeline after initially expressing uncertainty.

Since it’s not clear the county owns right-of-way on Hole in the Wall island, approving an easement could get the county into a legal dispute, O’Bryan and Flescher said.

“Who owns this thing?” Flescher asked. “It will go to the courts. This thing is going to be mired up and mucked up for six months, 18 months, we don’t know how long it’s going to be. It’ll be tied up.”

There are safer ways to provide re-use water to John’s Island, such as running another pipe on the Wabasso Causeway Bridge and south on State Road A1A, O’Bryan contended.

“With an alternative pipeline available, I don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze,” O’Bryan said.

Commissioners Bob Solari and Tim Zorc said they wanted to grant the temporary construction easement because it’s environmentally better to rely on reuse water for irrigation than potable water.

The county wants to expand its reuse water program to dispose of the liquid byproduct of the sewage treatment process, Zorc said. Every 100 houses added to the sewer system produces 10,000 gallons of re-use water daily.

“Re-use is good, there are a lot of benefits from re-use,” Solari said. “Good potable water is in short supply. We draw down too much, too fast from our aquifers. We have to stop doing that. I’ve long thought the use of reuse water was the best way of doing it.”

“Is the risk worth the benefit of having this paid for by John’s Island and having a million gallons of reuse water a day?” Solari said. “I believe it is.”

Running a pipeline from the Sea Oats plant to the Wabasso Causeway Bridge and south on A1A to John’s Island would not meet John’s Island’s needs, Korpar said, because the community would be at the end of the pipeline and other communities to the north might consume most of the water.

Korpar and other John’s Island Water Management officials assured the commissioners they would use the most advanced technology and take every precaution to avoid polluting the Indian River Lagoon while constructing the pipeline. Any leaks after pipeline completion would be the county’s responsibility.

While disappointed in the April 23 commission vote, Korpar said he hopes to return in a month or two with title insurance that resolves the right-of-way issue and sets up approval of the temporary construction easement for Hole in the Wall island.

“This was a setback that we hope to overcome in the future,” Korpar said. “We think it could go a different way with the proper documentation and everything in place moving forward.”