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Concerns growing over location of wastewater treatment plant

'It's a potential environmental nightmare,' says St. Lucie County administrator
The Fort Pierce Utilities Authority’s wastewater treatment plant sits on the Indian River Lagoon.jpg
Posted at 3:37 PM, Mar 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-22 18:58:45-04

FORT PIERCE, Fla. — It has sat in a prime waterfront location on the Treasure Coast for decades. But now, there's serious talk about moving a wastewater treatment plant in Fort Pierce away from the Indian River Lagoon.

From ground level, you can’t see the tanks.

But traveling across the causeway onto South Hutchinson Island, you can see the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority’s wastewater treatment plant, which sits in a precarious spot, according to St. Lucie County Administrator Howard Tipton.

"It's a potential environmental nightmare," Tipton said.

Tipton said had Hurricane Dorian struck, the plant would have been in the lagoon.

"So we’re not starting from scratch, but we have a long way to go and I think this is an exciting opportunity," said John Tompeck, the director of the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority.

FPUA leaders recently went before the St. Lucie County Commission to discuss moving the plant to the Treasure Coast Energy Center off Selvitz Road by 2027.

The cost would be $156 million, 70% of which would be paid for by FPUA. St. Lucie County would pay the remainder.

While FPUA leaders insist moving the facility will bring hundreds of new jobs to the area, it will mean higher rates for its customers, anywhere from $2.13 to $2.42 per month for the next five years, depending on a customer's location.

"That gives me heartburn, rate hikes," said Fort Pierce Mayor Linda Hudson.

Hudson said she’d like this project done without rate hikes, but she’s excited though about what could come to this prime piece of real estate.

"It’s a blank slate, lot of things. A hotel, mixed use, high end homes," Hudson said.

FPUA said grants from the state Department of Economic Opportunity would hopefully bring down the consumer costs.

"If we’re able to demonstrate the jobs that we can produce and the benefit to our community, we can apply with them as well," said Bo Hutchinson, the director of FPUA's water and wastewater division.

"The city and county commissions do give final approval to all rate changes," Tompeck said.

Future meetings will be set up between the county, the city, and the utility to see where to go next.