Irrigation Irritation

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Buckhorn, who's now running for mayor, voted against Greco's plan to use CIT money for development. Although the deed is done, he'd like to see more attention to infrastructure when the next chunk of CIT money is divvied up.

"If you're rotting from the core, it doesn't matter how many tall buildings you put up," he said.

The DEP can't mandate funding, but it has outlined all of its concerns and given the city 60 days to provide answers. Their 60 days are up this week, said Bateman, and the DEP is willing to assume that the city has a reasonable explanation for all of its shortcomings until they've had a chance to review the city's responses. If the city does not provide adequate answers to the DEP's concerns, they could be looking at fines and other enforcement measures, he said.

Ralph Metcalf, director of Tampa's Sanitary Sewers department did not return repeated calls for comment.

It's easy for citizens to ignore stormwater issues if they don't live on waterways or in areas that flood. But for citizens who do live in those areas, the problems are a constant source of frustration. Residents who live along the canals that line West Shore Boulevard have been dealing with the city's stormwater issues since the 1950s and they've run out of patience.

Two citizens groups have taken up the issue: Neighbors Against Stormwater Pollution and SPAHA. They've met with the mayor and lobbied city council members for years in an effort to get the city to remove the sludge they claim the city's stormwater pipes deposit into their canals every time it rains. They have even sent representatives to Tallahassee to meet with DEP officials, all to no avail. "We've tried all of that and gotten absolutely nowhere," said NASP president Scott Hendry.

Canals where the residents used to be able to swim in and keep their boats have been rendered useless by the refuse that gets piped in with the stormwater. "We get one inch of rain and we see this black water," said Hendry. "You see Styrofoam cups, cigarette butts, leaves — anything that anybody throws down on the street — it all ends up right here in front of us."

Debris isn't the only thing that ends up in the canals. There's also the runoff from lawn chemicals in fertilizer, which the residents claim have killed the fish that used to swim in the canals and scared off the manatees that once frequented the warm waters.

The residents want the city to dredge the canals and retrofit the drains so that the debris is cleaned out of the stormwater before it hits the canals. The city doesn't want to foot the bill for the multimillion-dollar project and says it's not entirely to blame.

With or without the storm drains, some natural silting of the canals would have occurred. The runoff from the residents' own lawns and the natural tidal flow would also have piled up in the canals. Last year the city did a "causation study" to determine exactly how much of the canal muck was theirs. An independent engineering firm determined that just 30 percent of the muck belonged to the city and the remaining 70 percent had the residents' names written in it.

The residents beg to differ, citing the same faulty calculations the DEP cited the city for in its inspection. They've had enough of meetings, discussions and studies and are preparing to sue the city, said Hendry. Both groups have met with attorneys and are planning to file a class action lawsuit to get the city to clean up its mess and stop making new ones, said Hendry. They also plan to attend the public hearings the DEP will hold as part of the permit process. The residents want the permit to include language that prevents the city from polluting the waterways and walking away from the damage. The permit says that the city is to use maximum effort and the best technology available to prevent pollution, said Hendry, and that's what should happen. "They made no effort here; they just dug a big hole and dumped the stuff out."

Bateman has heard from the South Tampa groups that are having canal problems and agrees that the city's estimate of 30 percent responsibility is questionable. However the residents may be mistaken in their contention that the city's actions violate its current permit. The permit as the EPA designed it simply isn't very good, said Bateman.

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