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    Owner vows to clear property

    During a roller-coaster day for John Schestag, mosquito-control workers haul away hundreds of tires, then a judge gives him a week’s reprieve to clear out boats and cars.

    [Times photos: Jim Damaske]
    John Schestag says he has been offered $70,000 for this 42-foot Cheoy Lee custom sailboat made of solid teak, but the buyer cannot pick it up until April.

    By ROBERT FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001


    OZONA -- As a forklift piled tires from his yard into a dump truck, John Schestag sat glumly on the trailer of an old sailboat.

    Schestag, 58, said the effort of spending three years fighting Pinellas County over dozens of old boats and cars on his property had taken its toll.

    He said he had been having stress-related panic attacks ever since last week, when the county began towing cars away from his two lots on Orange Street.

    "This is my Waco, right here," Schestag said.

    But while Schestag's Monday began with county mosquito control workers swarming over his property to haul away hundreds of tires, it ended on a much different note. At his request, a judge gave him one more week to clear the property himself.

    Early Monday, Allen Peck, a mosquito-control crew chief, said the tires were collecting water and producing mosquitoes. By day's end, the county had hauled away 41/2 dump truck loads of tires to a landfill.

    Schestag complained that some of the tires were new, and almost all still had good tread. And he said they had all been sprayed to keep mosquitoes away.

    But the tires were not Schestag's main concern on Monday morning. He worried the county soon would follow through on its plan to crush the boats on his property and haul them to a landfill.

    "I'm just dead meat," Schestag said. "They don't care."

    Schestag pointed to a 1966 42-foot Cheoy Lee custom sailboat made of solid teak and adorned with a carved eagle on its bow. Schestag said he has been offered $70,000 for the boat, but that the buyer cannot pick it up until April.

    A boat salvage company hired by the county deemed the boat unrestorable, marking it for destruction.

    "Can you see how that tears your heart out?" Schestag said.

    One county worker took time to marvel at the boat. The worker shook his head in disgust when Schestag told him the county had deemed it essentially worthless.

    Another 32-foot sailboat deemed unrestorable needed only a valve job on the engine to become seaworthy again, Schestag said. Next to it lay the Intrepid, a steel sloop with a new $10,000 diesel engine in it, Schestag said.

    Another county worker mentioned to an acquaintance of Schestag that he would buy several car engines slated for demolition, but Pinellas County Code Enforcement Supervisor Larry Lara quickly quashed the transaction, saying it would be a conflict of interest.

    Schestag took issue with the county's beginning its cleanup while he still has an outstanding motion filed in the 2nd District Court of Appeal that seeks a rehearing. Assistant County Attorney Jewel White Cole said last week the county decided to move ahead because she's convinced Schestag's motion will fail. It was not filed within the required 10 days, she said.

    Schestag likened that to administering the death penalty and checking DNA evidence afterward.

    "It's a moot point if I win," he said. "How can I uncrush a boat?"

    Last week, Schestag filed an emergency motion with a federal judge, but that only bought him one day's delay.

    On Monday afternoon, Schestag's outlook brightened after yet another court hearing. Schestag had appealed Monday morning to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell for emergency relief to prevent the county from hauling away vehicles or demolishing boats.

    Farnell gave Schestag a week's reprieve to clear the property himself.

    "At this time, we're kind of in a holding pattern," said Assistant County Attorney Donald Crowell.

    Crowell said he hopes Schestag follows through and clears the properties.

    "Our goal all along has been to have Mr. Schestag come into compliance," Crowell said. "Hopefully, he'll do that, and this whole matter will be resolved."

    The county's actions to begin removing properties appears to have sparked Schestag to action, he said.

    "He seems to have finally decided he needs to get in compliance," Crowell said.

    Late Monday afternoon, a company from Cape Coral hauled away two of the large sailboats. Schestag said the boats are headed to a 120-acre property along the Palm Harbor coastline owned by Dan McMullen. Schestag said McMullen, of the famous Pinellas County pioneer family, heard about his battle with the county and offered to allow him to store the boats and cars on his property.

    "I'm glad to see there are a few good Samaritans out there," Schestag said.

    Schestag said neighbors loaned him $3,000 to cover the cost to transport the boats.

    Schestag vowed he will have the property cleared within the week, though he maintains he ought to be allowed to have the boats and cars there.

    Schestag's spirits had lifted by day's end. Standing atop the teak sailboat and fixing straps to its hull to fasten it to a trailer, he told a friend how a group of students walked by and said they liked his boats. They told him, "Your boats are rad."

    "That means radical, it's good," Schestag said.

    - Staff writer Robert Farley can be reached at (727) 445-4185 or farley@sptimes.com.

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