Polk’s Swiftmud Funding Could Be Reconsidered, Board Told

The $40 million commitment the Southwest Florida Water Management District ‘s Governing Board made to Polk County could be up for reconsideration, Executive Director Brian Armstrong told board members Tuesday.

His comment came in response to a question from board member Ed Armstrong of Pinellas County following a briefing by General Counsel Karen West on the current litigation filed by Polk County to challenge a proposed permit request by the Peace River Manasota Water Supply Authority.

“Committed funds can be changed by the board if it so chooses” Brian Armstrong said, explaining only $11.5 million of that amount has been encumbered by formal contracts. He added those contracts are performance-based.

No board member has proposed such a change.

West cautioned board members not to comment on the pending litigation, explaining they will be required to vote on a final order after the administrative law judge issues a recommended order. At that time the board will have to consider all of the evidence and legal arguments in the case.

The three-week trial in the case is scheduled for January, West said.

Board member Armstrong asked West how much the case has cost the agency.

She said the agency has spent about $130,000 as well as used “substantial” staff time, but added she expects that number will increase as depositions begin and the process proceeds. Swiftmud has reportedly budgeted up to $1 million to cover litigation costs.

This litigation involves competing claims by utilities at opposite ends of the river in connection with their long-term water-supply planning.

An attempt to resolve the dispute through mediation so far has not been fruitful, though it is still possible a settlement could be reached before the case goes to trial.