HERNANDO BEACH — Perched high above the coastal neighborhood, the water tower at Hernando Beach has been a unique watchman and highly visible welcome sign for drivers and boaters although it has not held water for years.
Now there is some question about its future.
A discussion earlier this month by the County Commission centered around the botched maintenance contract for the de-commissioned structure has prompted some questions about how it can be used in the future or whether it would be better to take it down and avoid future liability and upkeep cost.
The tower belongs to Hernando County as does property surrounding it.
Residents of Hernando Beach, who have recently been involved in a visioning survey for their community, and some with the Hernando County Port Authority, are concerned about the talk of taking down the tower. It serves as an official navigational aid since it is visible from the Gulf. County Administrator Len Sossamon told commissioners that he has also heard talk that the community sees it as historical.
That wasn't the gist of the conversation commissioners had on the topic last week.
Their chief procurement officer James Wunderle brought them a "housekeeping item,'' a term often used to describe a routine task performed as part of the purchasing process. But the discussion caught the attention of commissioners because, while the maintenance contract on the tower was originally awarded using a bid through another agency, when the contract was renewed last year, for a 10-year period, it never came to the County Commission for approval.
The price tag for the contract topped $100,000,
Commissioner Steve Champion was concerned that there was a built-in price escalator in the contract. Commissioner John Allocco didn't know why the county wanted to keep the tower when it wasn't in use anymore.
"An old water tower is like an old car. It's going to have things breaking down,'' Allocco said. When Wunderle noted that the tower might be a good place to put up equipment to boost signals for the new emergency agency radios currently under study, Allocco was skeptical. "The structural integrity is going to be a problem and again, it probably will be cheaper if you can't use it as a water tower to put up a (radio) tower.''
The thought of spending that kind of money also concerned Anthony Palmieri, a former member of the county's planning commission.
He told commissioners he didn't know why they had spent so much time talking about "spending $100,000 ... to maintain a tower that really serves no useful purpose other than providing a monument to the people of Hernando Beach,'' Palmieri said. "If that's what the people want, why don't you sell them the tower, have them maintain it and you get out of the way.''
"We're not above that, Anthony,'' said Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes, the commission from Hernando Beach. "We're trying to sort that out."
He said he would like to see various options for the tower studied. Commissioners agreed to delay any action on the maintenance contract until Dec. 12 when county staff is expected to bring forward more information.
Several days after the commission discussion, the Port Authority talked about the tower and agreed to oppose any move to tear it down. Several Hernando Beach residents who support keeping the tower also attended. Chuck Greenwell, who heads up the government affairs committee of the Hernando Beach Property Owners Association, said he felt confident that, with Port Authority support, the tower would stay.
He said he thought the commissioners' concerns about the structure just being there for Hernando Beach residents were unfounded while the need for the tall beacon for mariners was well documented.
"I think it's a very important navigational aid,'' he said. "For people who are not familiar with the area, it's even more important for them.''
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.