Fire board looks into suing St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg owns the water pipes in Lealman but has not been quick to install hydrants.
By ANNE LINDBERG
Published February 9, 2005
LEALMAN - Fire Commission members are exploring the feasibility of suing the city of St. Petersburg for failing to provide enough fire hydrants in the Lealman area.
Attorneys representing the Lealman Fire Commission should finish researching the issues "fairly soon," fire Chief Rick Graham told board members at Monday's workshop. "Fairly soon" could be this month.
Commissioners will probably sue if it is possible to win. Members Linda Campbell and John Frank referred to the group's consensus that the issue should be forced.
St. Petersburg should know in "no uncertain terms," Frank said, that the Fire Commission is determined to see the issue through to the end.
If the Lealman board does sue, it would bring to a head an issue that has plagued the unincorporated Lealman area for years.
Lealman stretches from just east of Interstate 275 to Park Street between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg. Kenneth City sits in the middle of the area.
St. Petersburg supplies drinking water to much of the district, charging 25 percent more because Lealman consumers are not city residents. As such, St. Petersburg claims ownership of the water pipes, which are the vehicle for getting water to fire hydrants. But the city has not been quick to install hydrants in the area.
For years, firefighters and Lealman residents have known they do not have enough hydrants. Lealman firefighters carry extra lengths of hose to make up for it.
Negotiations had gone on behind the scenes for years with little or no resolution. The issue started gaining public notice when the county began revitalizing the middle part of the fire district east of Kenneth City. The evaluation included a count of hydrants.
But it gained full prominence in June 2003 when a fire destroyed a building at Town Apartments North, on 62nd Avenue N in the easternmost section of the district. Firefighters struggled with the lack of hydrants as the building burned, leaving dozens of elderly people homeless.
The county estimated that the area needed 160 hydrants in order to have a hydrant within 500 feet of buildings.
The county said it was St. Petersburg's duty to install the hydrants because the city supplied the water. St. Petersburg said it was the county's duty because it was the government and fire authority for the Lealman area.
When the county moved to install more than 40 hydrants, St. Petersburg refused to let county employees do the work because the water lines belong to the city. St. Petersburg did the work but charged the county for doing it.
Since then, negotiations have bogged down over the remaining hydrants. As talks dragged on, area residents and fire commissioners, especially Frank, complained that the fire board had not done enough to force the issue and look out for taxpayers.
Investigating a lawsuit is the first step in the board's attempt to force the issue.
[Last modified February 9, 2005, 04:38:23]
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