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    A creek corrected

    Neighbors who were losing their back yards to Bishop Creek celebrate the completion of a $1.3-million project.

    By LEON M. TUCKER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 29, 2002

    [Times photo: Jim Damaske]
    Leslie Grace rejoices in the new wall built by the city of Safety Harbor to stop the erosion of her back yard. "I have nothing but smiles," she said.
    SAFETY HARBOR -- Leslie Grace often came to the City Commission meetings alone.

    She would sit quietly at the back of the room, listening to commissioners hash out the night's business -- sometimes wringing her hands until it was her turn to speak.

    The "audience to be heard" portion of Safety Harbor meetings gives residents a chance to air their concerns, as long as what they want to talk about hasn't already been acted upon.

    That wasn't a problem. For two years, she and her neighbors in the Harbor Woods subdivision complained that they were losing chunks of their yards to erosion along Bishop Creek.

    The erosion got so bad that Grace's swimming pool was less than 3 feet from the edge of the 13-foot dropoff to the creek below.

    But the city heard their pleas. Now that a $1.3-million project to repair the troubled creek is finished, Grace and her neighbors are quite happy.

    "I have nothing but smiles," said Grace, standing on the edge of a new wall built by the city to stop the erosion of her back yard. "I really am happy the city moved on this."

    Her next-door neighbor, Sandy VanSickle, emerged from a line of nearby bushes to join Grace. She signaled a thumbs-up.

    "They really did a great job," said VanSickle, whose pool also was about to slide down the banks of Bishop Creek. "We're thrilled."

    City Manager Wayne Logan said the city wasn't certain at first how far it should go to solve the problems.

    "There was a difference in understanding who was responsible," he said. "But . . . erosion issues that were affecting people's property, I think, was the overriding issue."

    The project to repair the troubled creek took about five months. It started with Commissioner Keith Zayac's recommending the city take a more "global approach" in repairing it.

    Zayac, who is also an engineer for PBS&J in Tampa, suggested that a retention pond be built to help slow the water flow.

    The city last fall purchased a 5-acre chunk of property from the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranch for $350,000. When the deal was finalized, workers spent months digging and hauling away truckloads of dirt to form a 3-acre lake.

    On the south side of the lake, where the creek runs, a diversion dam was installed. The cement boxlike structure holds up heavy creek flow and pushes it through a 24-inch hole into the creek.

    Whatever water backs up and rises more than 3 feet inside the box, City Engineer Lennie Naeyaert said, is diverted into the nearby retention pond.

    The water is kept there until it reaches about 38 feet above sea level or a half-million gallons, when it is distributed back into the creek.

    "And 99 percent out of 100 percent of the time, the storm will be over by then," said Naeyaert, who also supervised the project.

    Another part of the project helped restore eroded creek walls by installing a mixture of concrete and vegetation to control water flow.

    Screens filled with broken cement, called gabions, also were constructed along the parts of the creek where steep dropoffs occurred.

    Gabions are required where it is difficult to plant vegetation to help slow the creek flow.

    It is atop the stair-step formation of gabions along her back yard where, Grace said, she will come from time to time to check on the creek.

    "It took time and it got done," she said. "I'm really happy with the results, and I'm hopeful it will be good for the whole creek in the long run."

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