Sundays near bridge a day of noise, not rest
By AARON SHAROCKMAN
CLEARWATER -- Residents of the Pierce 100 condominium building hoped their new neighbors, bridge builders from PCL Constructors Inc., would take a cue from the Bible and rest on Sundays.
After two failed lawsuits, residents of the 114 units there came to grudgingly accept living with the workers and their fluorescent hard hats Monday through Saturday for the next two years while a new bridge rises to link downtown Clearwater and the beach.
They just wanted one morning in which they would be awakened by squawking sea gulls, rather than the purr of a PCL dump truck.
They're not getting it.
And they're not happy about it. "We expected noise," says Terry Sue Turner, president of the Pierce 100 homeowners group that has been fighting the bridge's construction since 1995. "But the city promised us one day of peace."
She said an October letter from City Manager Bill Horne gave assurances that the construction noise would be limited to 7 a.m-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. She and resident Frank Spatuzzi expected that meant things would be quiet on Sunday.
But Gary Johnson, the city's director of public services, said the contractors found a provision in the noise ordinance that excludes the bridge work from the time restraints because it is on public land. The October letter addressed a project related to the bridge and was written before the bridge contract had been awarded, he said.
Because city rules don't apply, workers can pound, dig and trudge all night if they like. And they have, making for some sleepless nights, Turner said.
Strictly limiting workers to weekday daylight hours would cost the city more money in overtime, as crews would have to work double and triple shifts, Johnson said.
Johnson said the intricacies of drilling sometimes require work into the night. If the contractors stopped drilling before a hole is complete, he said, the hole could fill and the work would be lost.
The explanation doesn't please Spatuzzi, who said the city wasn't upfront with residents about construction hours.
The company is doing what it can to keep its noise levels low, and the recent rash of earsplitting clamor was unexpected and is now over, Johnson said. Workers drilling near Pierce 100 encountered large amounts of debris, forcing them to use larger, louder drills, he said.
But the path is cleared, the pier is ready to be built, and hopefully things will be quieter for the new bridge's neighbors, Johnson said.
"It was very noisy, and I have all the sympathy in the world," Johnson said. "They were upset, and rightfully so."
Then the Sunday work started.
With trucks and cranes sneering in the background, Turner called Johnson's office on a recent Sunday to show him the daily aggravation Pierce 100 residents are undergoing for a new bridge.
"I was yelling over the phone," Turner said. "Johnson wasn't there, so she hollered into his voice mail: ' "Believe or not, I'm not standing at the construction site, I'm standing in my living room. I hope you can hear me.' "
Despite the inconvenience, Johnson said a new bridge will be quieter, cleaner and better for the residents of Pierce 100. He's asking for time.
Members twice sued the city to stop construction of the bridge, saying the project was a misuse of city taxpayer funds. They lost both cases in the Florida Supreme Court. Spatuzzi said Pierce 100 is still considering a third suit that claims new construction will lower property values for the building's tenants.
For now, the residents of Pierce 100 are busy dealing with drills and dump trucks.
Turner got a reprieve from that din Tuesday. Heavy rains forced the workers inside, and for a morning, she conducted her business in peace. But she knows that probably won't be the case today. Trucks will be roaring at 7 a.m., if not earlier, and all Turner can do is turn up the television, close her blinds and wait for her new neighbors to leave.
"Then I'll be staring at a wall of concrete," she said. "Even after all this mess is over . . . it'll still be a mess."
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