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Program keeps the community N.E.A.T.

Once a year, residents use the Neighborhood Environmental Action Team to get rid of their unwanted junk.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 27, 2002


CULBREATH HEIGHTS -- Two weeks ago, Greg Stead dumped his old addiction on the curb.

There it was, a late 1980s arcade game called Rastan, looking way out of place next to a rusty refrigerator.

Stead bought it 10 years ago for $250, then played it until rats chewed through the wires. Ghostly letters burned into the screen say it all: GAME OVER.

"I lugged that thing with me so many places," said Stead, 35, a lawn maintenance worker. "I finally gave up on it."

Stead isn't alone in purging clutter.

Or in taking advantage of a city program to do it.

Every year, thousands of Tampa residents use the Neighborhood Environmental Action Team to jettison unwanted stuff that's too big for trash cans.

It's garbage, mostly, but garbage the typical trash collector won't take:

Sofas and microwaves. Refrigerators and TVs. Carpet and mattresses.

Unless scavengers snag them first -- and often they do -- the items are hauled to the city waste-to-energy complex at McKay Bay.

Some of it is recycled, but most of it's burned.

The decent stuff? It's toast, too. The city doesn't have time to cull good from bad, said N.E.A.T. manager Jim Pinkney.

"We don't deal with that," he said. "It all goes."

N.E.A.T. workers, who sweep through neighborhoods once a year, also clear vacant lots and cut grass along roads.

Since the program began in 1997, they have never lacked for work, perhaps because people never lack for junk.

Some neighborhoods discard 300 tons of items per visit.

In Sulphur Springs, a single house generated a pile big enough to dam a river. It was 8 feet high, 12 feet wide and stretched three-fourths of the way down the block, said Frank Ruiz, a N.E.A.T. supervisor.

"It blocked most of the homes," Ruiz said.

An ugly sight, to be sure.

But without N.E.A.T., some of that stuff might have ended up being a long-term eyesore, said Henry McGriff, deputy director of the Tampa Parks Department, which oversees the clean-up program.

"These are the things that get thrown in the vacant lots, the right of ways," McGriff said.

The city knows some people can't move their junk. If you're elderly or disabled, call 931-2040.

But if you're able-bodied, the city would love more volunteers.

Two weeks ago, city crews took aim at Culbreath Heights, Culbreath Bayou, Beach Park, Beach Park Isles and Sunset Park. Last week, they hit Palma Ceia, Golfview and Historic Hyde Park.

While people ate breakfast or slept in late, garbage trucks rumbled methodically down every street.

Mark Morilla was still lugging unwanted items from the side of his Lois Avenue home when one of the trucks hissed to a stop.

The vacuum cleaner? "Wasn't pulling like it used to," he said.

The screen door? Rusty, he claimed, though no rust could be seen.

The fake plants? A neighbor's. The neighbor asked Morilla to get rid of them.

Is that it?

No way, Morilla said: "I didn't make it to the garage."

That's for next year.

Three blocks away, Linda Thornton-Iannone tired of looking at the exercise bike. So she chucked it.

"It was taking up space," she said.

The Robinson High School secretary bought it new. She used it -- at first. But eventually it was banished to the back yard.

It still runs. But exposure to the elements gave it the same gritty finish as a burned-out muffler.

Thornton-Iannone enlisted her dad and brother to toss the bike and other choice items onto a bonfire-sized heap.

Other gems glittered next to a dozen bicycle rims and a fridge with a still-functioning freezer.

Best among them: A Santa Claus yard ornament with no head.

Thornton-Iannone's 14-year-old son shot St. Nick at close range, with a paintball gun.

"He shot Santa!" she said.

Not everything is so beyond repair.

Some of it's salvageable, even saleable, ready for new digs in a modest duplex apartment.

Ruiz recalled a computer discarded on Davis Islands: An older model, but spotless.

"It looked like it'd scream if it had some speed behind it," he said.

On the Friday before N.E.A.T. swept Sunset Park, a TV sat on a plush chair on San Rafael Street, both covered with clear plastic.

By Saturday morning, it was gone.

People know when the getting's good. The N.E.A.T. roundups are posted on utility bills and advertised in newspapers.

"You'll have people ride through," said Pinkney, the N.E.A.T. manager. "If they see stuff they like, they'll take it."

As city crews gathered near Coleman Middle School, a white Ford truck drifted past at 7:30 a.m., an assortment of lawn chairs lumped willy-nilly in the back.

"There goes one right there," Pinkney said.

Earlier, a maroon SUV slowed near piles on Estrella Street. The back door was open, the booty inside. A witness said two women in the front appeared giddy.

Later that morning, another slow-moving car was spotted, its trunk too full to close, a one-person trampoline strapped on top.

Back at Stead's house, the plunderers struck early.

They snagged four lawn mowers, two edgers, a weed trimmer and a chain saw -- all dead as far as Stead was concerned.

Pinkney laughed: "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

Stead said he didn't know about the N.E.A.T. program until he came home from work Friday and saw neighbors building mini-mountains of trash.

He's glad he found out.

He said goodbye to his rat-ravaged arcade game. And he said hello to a new grate for his barbecue grill.

His neighbor had thrown it away.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

* * *

SEPT. 28: Old Hyde Park, New Suburb Beautiful, Parkland Estates (area bounded by Swann Avenue, Prospect Road, Bayshore Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue).

OCT. 5: Gray Gables, Bon Air, Park View (area bounded by Kennedy Boulevard, Swann Avenue, Hillsborough River and Dale Mabry Highway).

OCT. 12: Beach Park, Mid Peninsula, West Shore Palms (area bounded by I-275, Palmira/Sunset, Dale Mabry Highway and Old Tampa Bay).

OCT. 19: Tampa Heights, Riverside Heights, Ridgewood River (area bounded by MLK, I-275 and the Hillsborough River).

OCT. 26: A portion of Ridgewood River and vicinity (area bounded by MLK, Columbus Drive, Hillsborough River and Himes Avenue).

NOV. 16: Tampa Heights, Riverside Heights, Ridgewood River (area bounded by MLK, I-275 and the Hillsborough River).

DEC. 7: Drew Park (area bounded by Henry Avenue, Tampa Bay Boulevard, Dale Mabry Highway and Westshore Boulevard).

JAN. 11, 2003: Ballast Point/Interbay (area bounded by Gandy Boulevard, MacDill AFB, Hillsborough Bay, Manhattan Avenue).

JAN. 18, 2003: Gandy/Gandy Gardens (area bounded by Gandy Boulevard, Bay Avenue, Himes Avenue, Old Tampa Bay).

FEB. 1, 2003: Port Tampa (area bounded by Fairview Heights, MacDill AFB, Manhattan Avenue, Old Tampa Bay).

FEB. 8, 2003: Fair Oaks, Guernsey Estates, Manhattan Manor, Bel Mar Shores (area bounded by Leona Street, Gandy Boulevard, Dale Mabry Highway, Old Tampa Bay).

FEB. 15, 2003: Bayshore Beautiful (area bounded by El Prado Boulevard, Gandy Boulevard, Bayshore Boulevard, Dale Mabry Highway).

FEB. 22, 2003: Virginia Park (area bounded by Palmira Avenue, Euclid Avenue, Bayshore Boulevard, Manhattan Avenue).

MARCH 15, 2003: Belmont Heights, College Hill, La Paloma (area bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, I-4, 40th Street, I-275).

MAY 10, 2003: North Hyde Park, West Riverfront (area bounded by I-275, Kennedy Boulevard, Hillsborough River, Howard Avenue).

MAY 24, 2003: North Bon Air, Oakford Park (area bounded by I-275, Kennedy Boulevard, MacDill Avenue, Lois Avenue).

JUNE 7, 2003: Old West Tampa, MacFarlane Park, Northeast MacFarlane (area bounded by Columbus Drive, I-275, Hillsborough River, Dale Mabry Highway).

JUNE 14, 2003: Carver City, Lincoln Gardens (area bounded by Columbus Drive, I-275, Dale Mabry, Old Tampa Bay).

JUNE 21, 2003: Downtown, Channel District, South Nebraska (area bounded by I-275/I-4, Harbour Island, 15th Street, Hillsborough River).

JUNE 28, 2003: Historic Ybor City, Florence Villa, Beasley (area bounded by I-4/Columbus Drive, Adamo Drive, City Limits, 15th Street).

JULY 12, 2003: Palmetto Beach (area bounded by Adamo Drive, Hemlock Avenue, 34th Street, Ybor Channel).

JULY 19, 2003: Davis Islands.

SEPT. 13, 2003: Beach Park Isles, Culbreath Bayou, Sunset Park, Culbreath Heights (area bounded by Beach Way Drive, Leona Street, Lois Avenue, Old Tampa Bay).

SEPT. 20, 2003: Palma Ceia, Palma Ceia Park, Historic Hyde Park, Golfview (area bounded by Swann Avenue, Bay to Bay Boulevard, Bayshore Boulevard, Dale Mabry).

SEPT. 27, 2003: Old Hyde Park, New Suburb Beautiful, Parkland Estates (area bounded by Swann Avenue, Prospect Road, Bayshore Boulevard, Lincoln Avenue).

OCT. 4, 2003: Gray Gables, Bon Air, Park View, Hyde Park North (area bounded by Kennedy Boulevard, Swann Avenue, Hillsborough River, Dale Mabry).

OCT. 11, 2003: Beach Park, Mid Peninsula, West Shore Palms (area bounded by I-275, Palmira/Sunset, Dale Mabry, Old Tampa Bay).

OCT. 18, 2003: Tampa Heights, Riverside Heights, Ridgewood River (area bounded by Martin Luther King Jr., I-275, Hillsborough River).

OCT. 25, 2003: Area bounded by Martin Luther King Jr., Columbus Drive, Hillsborough River, Himes Avenue.

NOV. 1, 2003: Area bounded by I-275, Kennedy Boulevard, Howard Avenue, MacDill Avenue.

DEC. 6, 2003: Drew Park (area bounded by Henry Avenue, Tampa Bay Boulevard, Dale Mabry, Westshore).

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