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Neighbors want DOT to clean up its mess

They say when workers repaired a bridge, they left huge deposits of sand that have rendered docks useless except at high tide.

By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 23, 2002

SOUTH PASADENA -- Dave Rountree has lived in water-abundant Pinellas County for 30 of his 38 years. He has dreamed of living on the water most of his life.

So when he found a good house at a good price on Pasadena Isle, Rountree and his wife, Sue, jumped at the chance to buy it. Two and a half years after moving in, the Rountrees have Boca Ciega Bay and a brand new dock in their back yard, but their boat is still on a trailer in front.

Why? Rountree and his neighbors say when the Department of Transportation project repaired the Shore Drive Bridge three years ago, the DOT left their neighborhood with sand deposits beneath their docks.

Now waterfront homeowners can use their docks and boat lifts only at high tide. In anything but premium conditions, and especially at low tide, they beach their boats.

"This is obvious that DOT caused the problem," Rountree said.

The neighbors now face the challenge of convincing DOT.

The agency has no complaints on file about the bridge project, which was wrapped up two years ago, said Marian Pscion, a DOT spokeswoman. Meanwhile, at least two people in South Pasadena say they have complained to the agency multiple times.

And the three men who most fervently pursued DOT while the project was continuing -- Al Edmiston, a South Pasadena city commissioner; Fred Britton, a Pasadena Isle resident whose dock was affected by the work; and Ron Holbrook, a condominium owner on Shore Drive who complained the project caused cracks in his condo walls -- died in 2000, as the project was being completed.

"They were watching that very carefully," said Martha Britton, Mr. Britton's widow.

The city of South Pasadena offered the residents little assistance, beyond telling them that the bridge was DOT's problem, not the city's. In the end, the Shore Plaza Condominium Association paid $200,000 to repair a sea wall they believe was damaged by the DOT work.

Other residents, who initially complained that the DOT damaged their homes when it drove piles into Boca Ciega Bay, eventually paid for the repairs themselves. Sometimes insurance companies picked up the tab.

Bill Mauger, who lives at the Shore Plaza Condominiums, said he eventually paid for his own cracked toilet bowl. Gary Anderson, South Pasadena's public works director, said he complained of the problems in a letter to DOT.

And Jeff Adams, a Pasadena Isle resident, said he wrote three complaint letters to DOT and received no response. That was after approaching the workers on site.

"I even told them, "Look, you're limiting the amount of water under my dock,' " Adams said. "And they said, "When we get done, we have to clean it all up and put it back the way it was.' "

When told the DOT had no records of complaints on the project, Shore Plaza Condominium Association president Doty Bakala laughed.

"That's what I heard they told someone else," Bakala said. "But I got a letter somewhere from them saying they're still working on it."

Neighbors say they were assured by a DOT engineer, Lenton Jenkins, throughout the project that he would leave the area the way he found it, but when the work was finished, he said nature would take care of the problem. He encouraged them to wait nine to 12 months for the water to return to its natural flow, residents said.

Jenkins, now a DOT consultant, could not be reached for comment.

Rountree and his neighbors are trying to gather information to present to DOT. They have photos of the water levels beneath their docks both before and after the work, and they also have a 12-minute video that shows what neighbors believe was the biggest culprit: efforts to move a barge that was part of the repair project.

Residents say the barge was stuck on the bay floor, and a tugboat tried for hours to move it off the work site. Neighbors say the tugboat kicked up sand and silt.

But neighbors are also frustrated with the city of South Pasadena. Adams, one of the Pasadena Isle homeowners, points out that when he was building his house, the city constantly kept watch of any impact his new construction had on Boca Ciega Bay, but they didn't hold DOT to the same standard.

"It's in their city. It happened in their city," Rountree said. "You'd think they'd want to do something about it."

Pscion said now that DOT is aware of complaints, the agency will look into the situation.

"We're not going to leave it hanging," Pscion said. "We'll work on it."

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