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Neighborhhod Report: Port Tampa

Back to nature

A Port Tampa spot overrun by exotics will be mowed over to create a tidal creek for wading birds.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 17, 2003

In coming weeks, the scruffy wetlands that stretch from the western edge of this neighborhood to Old Tampa Bay will undergo a heady transformation.

Trees will fall. Trucks will rumble. Bulldozers will root.

It will look like prep work for a new mall.

But don't panic. Developers promise that when they're finished, Port Tampa will have a gem of a green space, fed by a tidal creek and chock full of wading birds.

The developers are the city and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The plan: Take a 40-acre site overrun with tainted stormwater and invasive plants and turn it into a lush slice of restored coastline.

"Hopefully it will be a lot more aesthetically pleasing that it has been," said Amy Remley, a district scientist who is leading the restoration effort.

Shaping of the so-called Tappan site near the VFW Hall will begin next week and should end by May. The cost will top $280,000.

Future plans, unbudgeted, include trails and boardwalks that will allow people to enjoy the scenery without sloshing in salt marsh.

The city bought the land for about $1-million in 1998 and turned it into a nature preserve. But there's not much natural about it.

Decades ago, work crews left a hill of dredged-up dirt. Exotic plants -- melaleuca, Brazilian pepper, Australian pine -- invaded and thrived, crowding out marsh grasses and mangroves. And the city aimed stormwater pipes at the site, so a chemical broth of fertilizer, pesticide and oil gets dumped every time it rains.

But what was done can be undone, officials say.

More than 400 dump truck loads of dirt will be removed, lowering the hill from 14 feet to 4 feet. The exotic plants will be cut down, chipped into mulch and replaced with natives.

The stormwater won't go away, but it will be treated.

One pipe will be channeled into a meandering, man-made creek, the other into a tidal pool. Both water bodies will allow pollutants to settle out and be filtered by plants instead of gushing into the bay, Remley said.

There's a bigger picture here.

The city sees the Tappan preserve as another link in its budding greenways system. If plans pan out, it will be a way station on a trail that connects the Friendship Trail Bridge to Picnic Island and Bayshore Boulevard.

City officials hope to begin building on-site trails and boardwalks next year, but it depends on funding, said city forester Steve Graham, who is also working on the project.

"It's going to be beautiful," said Port Tampa resident Kevin Dwyer, the husband of Port Tampa Civic Association president Jill Buford. "I'm looking forward to walking out there when it's finished."

At a meeting in the Port Tampa Community Center last week, officials discussed the possibility of letting residents help with the replanting of marsh grass and slash pine.

That way, they'll be part of the rebirth, too.

-- Staff writer Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or .

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