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Residents fuming over reclaimed water pipe fiasco

As the city tries to right a botched public works project, Cayuga Avenue homeowners suffer from its effects.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 28, 2003


DAVIS ISLANDS -- For residents trapped in homes, the sound of a bungled public works project is an unstoppable, low-level hum.

On Cayuga Avenue, where contractors have been trying unsuccessfully for five months to install a reclaimed water pipe, residents live with house-shaking vibrations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., six or seven days a week.

The constant rumble of pipe-laying machinery has reportedly left cracks in some houses.

Sanity is cracking, too.

"It's not a boing boing," said Phil King, who lives in a duplex now flanked by heavy machinery and mounds of dirt. "It's more like zzzzzzzzzz."

At Jennifer Garner's house, dishes rattle all day like chattering teeth.

"I think my dog needs a psychiatrist," said Garner, referring to Casey, a depressed-looking golden retriever. "I think the mental duress is the worst thing."

There's no end in sight.

Work crews began digging up Cayuga Avenue as part of the city's $28-million plan to pipe reclaimed water into South Tampa. Laying a 48-inch pipe under Seddon Channel from Davis Islands to Hooker's Point was supposed to take six weeks, tops. That was five months ago.

But the 1,300-foot-long pipe is still above ground, propped up in the northbound lane of Davis Boulevard.

Not only has Piute Contracting Inc. failed to install it, but the city says a subcontractor damaged a massive sewage pipe in the process.

The work is on hold until the sewage situation is righted, which could take months. Even then, it won't continue until Piute can prove it has figured out how to get the other pipe under the channel, said Ralph Metcalf, director of the sanitary sewers department.

"They clearly have to show us they can do better or it ain't going to happen," Metcalf said.

The city isn't sure what the problem is.

Piute subcontracted the pipe work to Mastec North America Inc., Metcalf said. Now, amid the problems, Piute has taken the job back, he said. A Piute representative could not be reached for comment.

Piute will be responsible for all costs associated with replacing the sewage pipe and any damage to homes, Metcalf said. Replacing the pipe alone could cost $1-million.

Neighbors are at their wits' end.

Things are so bad the city has offered to put several families in temporary housing until the ordeal is over. At least two accepted.

"It's ludicrous," Garner said. "You just can't imagine."

Her family has lived on once-residential Cayuga Avenue for 12 years. Now it's part construction site, part flood zone.

City workers transformed the street into a makeshift canal last week when it appeared the sewage pipe, which carries 10- to 12-million gallons a day, might burst. They stacked 6,000 sand bags, cut away part of Channel Drive and removed several feet of sea wall just in case renegade sewage needed to be channeled to the water.

The threat of a spill is gone, Metcalf said. The city is installing a bypass system around the damaged portion of pipe. But officials won't know for at least two weeks whether the pipe needs to be replaced.

For residents, other worries remain.

They fear the persistent thump of heavy equipment is causing long-term damage to their homes.

Carol Fishback says hers is already damaged.

The cracks began outside the home she shares with husband Martin Peebles, she said. Then they moved into the garage, the laundry room, the master bedroom, the bathrooms.

"This is not what I thought home ownership was all about," Fishback said.

The contractors' trench swallowed half her driveway. One day, she came home and saw the top of an 8-foot shrub sticking out of it.

"It's like the black hole in the side yard," she said, laughing.

To survive, she laughs, she said.

"But I'm boiling inside."

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

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