Over the weekend Tom Rask, a Pinellas County Republican challenging John Morroni in the County Commission District 6 primary this August, sent out a mass emailing to Pinellas residents, headlined "Your drinking water is endangered!- Pinellas County Commission Considers Sale of Our Water Source." He's referring to a plan by the majority of the County Commission to invite Pasco County to get an appraisal for the 12,400 acres that make up Cross Bar Ranch and an adjacent parcel known as Al Bar Ranch. Cross Bay Ranch contains 17 wellheads owned by Tampa By Water, who provides drinking water for all citizens in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties.
But Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch says there is no fear that such a sale would affect the Pinellas local water supply.
In a post via Facebook, Welch says he understands the concerns, but says explicitly that while he understands the concerns, the sale of the land to Pasco County would not affect Pinellas' local water supply.
Here's his letter:
Thanks for your email regarding Pinellas County’s Cross Bar and Al Bar properties in Pasco county. I understand and appreciate your concern about Pinellas’ water rights, and the possible sale of the land.
The important point is this – the sale of the land will not affect our local water supply. Since 1998, Pinellas County has been a member of Tampa Bay Water, which owns the water rights to the Pasco well fields, as well as other water resources in the Tampa Bay area. Two Pinellas Commissioners serve on the board of Tampa Bay Water, and Pinellas Commissioner Susan Latvala is the current chair of the Tampa Bay Water Board. For more than a decade, Tampa Bay Water has been our regional water utility, and has invested in water supply resources for the long term. The sale of the Cross Bar / Al Bar properties would not change that water supply model whatsoever.
However if by some unforeseen future circumstance Tampa Bay Water were to cease operations (which no one is suggesting), Pinellas would have the right to reacquire water rights and infrastructure through the dissolution process. I support maintaining those rights through any sale of the lands to Pasco county.
Pinellas has been a thoughtful steward of these lands for decades, and I would only support the sale of this resource if our water supply remains protected, and the lands remain preserved. Pasco county wishes to expand public recreational access and preservation of these lands, and has set aside funds to do so. This is not a sale for “quick cash” as, as some have stated.
I hope this adds some clarity to the discussion of this issue. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Welch, Susan Latvala, Charlie Justice and Janet Long support the proposal. Norm Roche, Morroni, and Karen Seel oppose it. In his email, Rask says he obviously opposes Morroni on many issues, and thus he's trying to knock him out of his County Commission seat, but "this sale of our land and water resources in Pasco County is one issue on which Mr. Morroni and I both agree. We are both opposed to it."