County neglects to sell solution for flooding
By Times editorial
Published June 15, 2007
The message for the Tarpon Woods neighborhood might be this: Be careful what you wish for - you may get it. The message for county government is this: Communication is a good thing - get better at it.
Residents of the upscale golf course community of Tarpon Woods in East Lake are riled up after reading in a May 7 St. Petersburg Times story that the county is considering buying the privately owned golf course that wraps around and between their homes and closing it. The story reported that county officials said they wanted to use the property for a stormwater retention area to reduce flooding of the subdivision.
Now, residents have learned that isn't all the county had in mind for the property. An alert Tarpon Woods resident probing for information discovered the county has applied to the Florida Communities Trust for a grant to help pay for the golf course. And the county's grant application reveals the full story: The county also is planning a community center, fishing pier, picnic pavilion, playground and nature trails on the property.
Oh, really? Not if some residents of Tarpon Woods can stop it. They are ready to fight to keep the golf course.
Flooding has been a serious problem in the Tarpon Woods neighborhood during rainy periods for many years. The subdivision was built in a floodplain and without sufficient provision for stormwater drainage. The streets fill up with water, the flooding threatens homes and almost half of the golf course even goes under water in storms.
Residents have insisted that the county government solve the flooding problem.
The county attempted to do so by installing a pipe system, but it didn't prevent the flooding.
After much study, the county quietly came up with a different solution: Buy the 150-acre golf course, restore it to its original state as oak forest upland and alluvial floodplain, and allow the land to hold and filter dirty stormwater that now runs into the neighborhood and ultimately into Brooker Creek and Tampa Bay.
Clearwater has completed a couple of similar projects to reduce flooding. In one case, the city bought a mobile home park, moved out the residents and restored the property to hold stormwater. In the other case, the city bought the Glen Oaks Golf Course, closed it and created a series of ponds to hold stormwater. The projects appear to have worked.
However, the county didn't tell the Tarpon Woods residents that they were talking with golf course owners Rebecca and Greg McClimans about buying the property.
And the county didn't discuss with residents the contents of its grant application, which states that the golf course clubhouse "will be converted into a staffed community center where classes and programs will be held, " that several other recreational facilities "will be constructed" on the south end of the course near Tarpon Woods Boulevard and that a boardwalk will be built out to East Lake Road to connect the property to the popular Pinellas Trail.
Residents who have enjoyed looking out their windows at the groomed golf course, on which deer can occasionally be seen grazing, have been blindsided by the news.
They should have been brought in on this plan at the ground floor.
What's unfortunate about the erupting controversy is that the county's plan to convert the golf course to a naturally functioning retention area is a good approach from a stormwater management perspective.
And it may be the only way to prevent the flooding - unless Tarpon Woods residents are willing to start digging retention ponds in their lush lawns.
Even the plans for a community center and picnic area might not have been viewed as threatening if the community had been properly consulted.
After all, the East Lake area sorely needs community recreation facilities.
Hmm. Ballfields, anyone?
[Last modified June 14, 2007, 22:06:27]
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