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    Buying land may help cure many ills

    Purchasing the 4.2 acres could close a gap in Clearwater's fire rescue service, provide storage for a cleanup project, supply an area for a park and lead to one less junkyard.

    By JENNIFER FARRELL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 20, 2002


    CLEARWATER -- Hoping to kill four birds with one stone, the city is poised to buy 4.2 acres in its northwest section at Overbrook Avenue and Betty Lane.

    First, the land sits at the center of a section in northwest Clearwater where city officials long have bemoaned a coverage gap in fire rescue service. About 1.25 acres of the parcel is planned for a new fire station to serve that area, where response times have traditionally lagged.

    The rest of the property likely will be used someday for a park, according to city engineer Mike Quillen.

    In the meantime, the city is considering using the land to store muck pulled from Stevenson Creek as part of a massive dredging project headed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers meant to restore the estuary so fish and wildlife can thrive.

    And, finally, city officials say, Clearwater will emerge with one less junkyard.

    On Thursday the city is expected to sign a deal with Central Florida Used Auto Parts Inc. for $818,550 -- which includes $750,000 for the land, plus $60,000 to reimburse the company for environmental assessment expenses, up to $4,800 to pay half the property's 2002 ad valorem taxes, and $3,750 in survey and closing costs.

    Part of the agreement calls for the company to vacate the property and leave it in "broom clean" condition. Closing is expected in 30 to 90 days.

    On Monday, Fire Chief Rowland Herald told commissioners the land sits directly at the center of northwest Clearwater's heaviest call volume.

    "It's just an absolute perfect location for response times," he said.

    Quillen said preliminary environmental testing shows some soil contamination from arsenic. Buried hydraulic lifts leaked fluid into the ground and will have to be removed, he said.

    "There's only a few places where we're going to have to go and dig out a little soil," Quillen said.

    No groundwater contamination was found, he said.

    Further testing and cleanup is estimated to run between $75,000 and $135,000.

    -- Jennifer Farrell can be reached at 445-4160 or farrell@sptimes.com.

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