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Reservoir gets a lifeline

The basin board votes to spend $560,000 to repair Medard Park's focal point; $2-million more is needed.

JANET ZINK
Published June 6, 2003

TAMPA - Medard Park fans can rest easy.

The Alafia River Basin Board voted unanimously Thursday to spend $280,000 this year and $280,000 next year to make repairs to the 30-year-old reservoir that provides a focal point for the park.

The board had been considering plans to dismantle the reservoir.

"We want to reassure the public that we are maintaining the reservoir in its current state," said basin board chairwoman Janet Kovach.

The $560,000 allocation puts only a dent in the $2.5-million needed to guarantee the reservoir will function properly well into the future.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the reservoir and surrounding land, hopes Hillsborough County, which operates it as a 1,200-acre park, will agree to help pay for some of the repairs. Swiftmud is scheduled to make its case Tuesday to county commissioners.

The reservoir was built in 1970 in eastern Hillsborough County on the site of an old phosphate mine to alleviate flooding along the Alafia River and create a spot for outdoor activities.

Since then, it's been popular for fishing, boating, camping and picnicking.

Almost 692,000 people passed through its gates last year, making it the second most-used county park.

But some residents who live on the Alafia River downstream from the reservoir blame the structure for heavy flooding on New Year's Eve.

Swiftmud says the floods had nothing to do with the reservoir; unusually heavy rains were the cause.

Still, the structure desperately needs up to $2.5-million in repairs to keep it safe, said Gary Kuhl, Swiftmud operations director.

That price tag prompted basin board member Rob Minthorn at the group's April meeting to suggest removing the dam and returning the park to a more natural state.

Community members protested.

Thursday, the Swiftmud staff recommended ways to preserve the reservoir to the basin board, a Swiftmud advisory group. The board approved all the recommendations.

First on the to-do list is spending $220,000 to reinforce an emergency spillway on the western border of the lake.

The spillway funnels water into a creek bed that runs along Turkey Creek Road if the lake rises to 66 feet above sea level. That has never happened, but Kuhl said the agency wants to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

Also on the budget for this year: designing repairs to the headwall where water drains from the reservoir to the Alafia River; cleaning an underground drainage system and replacing concrete bags along the channel that sends water to the river.

Next year, said Kuhl, Swiftmud will explore options for the most expensive repair, which is fixing or replacing the eroded concrete bags that line the reservoir's edges. That cost could top $2-million.

Most of the $72,000 that Swiftmud spends each year to maintain the reservoir goes to repairing the concrete bags.

Kuhl said he wants to look into using new materials that are stronger and last longer than concrete.

Kuhl also said he will pursue alternate sources of money, such as grants from federal and state agencies.

Another possibility would be having the county charge a fee for entry to the park.

Dover resident Tyrone Page said he has been fishing at Medard Park every chance he gets for the past 20 years.

He pays $35 a year to fish at night, but would be willing to shell out a few bucks every time he goes there during the day.

"It would be a lot better to pay more than to go someplace else," he said.

- Janet Zink can be reached at 661-2441 or jzink@sptimes.com

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