Orange County commissioners discussed taking over the water system that services Wedgefield Tuesday, as residents lobbied for the county to take over the Pluris water plant.
- Wedgefield residents seeking grants to buy Pluris water plant
- County estimates it will need $20 million to $30 million
- County asks state environmental officials to present on Pluris facility
- READ: Orange County Wedgefield Utility presentation (.PDF)
“Please take over jurisdiction of Pluris, move forward with the acquisition," pleaded Pamela DiMarzio, as she stood before the commission. "How long have we, the customers of Pluris, been subjected to elevated levels of TTHMs?"
Though the utility is not for sale, homeowners want Orange County to buy the plant from private water utility, Pluris, which services the neighborhood of Wedgefield.
“Right now there is a monopoly on their water for profit,” said Commisioner Emily Bonilla, whose District 5 encompasses the neighborhood. “They don’t have representation. Their rates are decided by another agency, that they didn’t vote for. And by bringing it to us, they’re getting the representation they deserve.”
Commissioners discussed the feasibility of buying the utility at Tuesday's Commission meeting. The cost, estimated between $20 million-30 million, would be passed onto homeowners.
“If we can purchase it, then we can run it -- and run it well. That I’m confident in,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs.
But, buying the utility is not a simple process: It would potentially take several years, fraught with costs and challenges, according to Todd Swingle, deputy director of utilities at Orange County.
“Infrastructure assessment and determine what the piping systems look like within the neighborhood,” Swingle said.
“We don’t really trust the way they operate the plant," said neighbor Adam Nehr, whose home sits just over 500 feet from the facility.
Nehr recently lodged a complaint against a new water testing procedure, which Pluris-Wedgefield was set to undergo on Jan. 12.
Tuesday, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that they suggested Pluris postpone the pilot project, until they can work through a formal process established under Florida law. The company complied.
In the meantime, neighbors are actively looking for grants and gauging interest in the county purchasing the facility.
Natalie Harris is one of several neighbors going door-to-door, collecting signatures and answering questions.
“It’s water, we can’t live without it. It’s a basic human need,” she said. She said she left the meeting feeling encouraged. “A year ago, we were just fighting to get the water tested. And now we actually have some momentum.”
They’ll need to collect signatures from 67 percent of homeowners, or 1,200 people, to move forward with any proposal. Harris said they’re currently around 400.
“Right now, everything really is in the residents’ hands. They do have to collect the number of signatures to move forward,” said Bonilla.
To clear up concerns and misconceptions, commissioners said that they want the FDEP to present at the next workshop, at a date yet to be determined. They also hope state representatives get involved in the search for grant money.
We reached out to Pluris-Wedgefield’s Regional Manager Joseph Kuhns, but did not hear back.
Originally named Rocket City, envisioned as a development to supply housing for Kennedy Space Center, the neighborhood became known as Wedgefield in 1983.
According to Todd Swingle, the neighborhood has always had private utilities; Pluris Holdings took over operations in 2009.