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Drought enables weed removal

When low water levels prevent county workers from clearing the channels in the Tsala Apopka chain, they tackle a project that has been discussed for years.

[Times photo: Ron Thompson]
Donnie Vick unloads weeds that he pulled with a mechanical harvester from the banks of Cooter Pond in Inverness.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001


INVERNESS -- Score one for the drought.

With the lake water levels continuing to drop, county workers had the chance Tuesday to start clearing the overgrown weeds from Cooter Pond, a project officials described as long overdue.

"I drive by Cooter Pond every day and see how bad it is," county Aquatic Services Division director Tom Dick said. "Thank goodness we can finally go in there and remove that stuff because it's been building up over the years."

County workers will spend the next four to six weeks running a mechanical harvester -- essentially an underwater lawn mower -- through Cooter Pond to remove the dense vegetation.

Clearing away the weeds will improve the appearance of the pond and prepare it for a muck removal project that still awaits state funding.

For years, officials have talked about dredging the sediment from the bottom of Cooter Pond, but the state last year did not approve $800,000 in requested funding for the project.

City Manager Frank DiGiovanni hopes the state will set aside money to dredge the pond this year because he said the expansion of the new courthouse, the downtown renovations slated for this summer and the creation of a boardwalk along the lake chain will bring even more attention to Cooter Pond.

"I think more and more people are starting to see the realities of the picture we've been painting," DiGiovanni said.

As for the weed removal efforts that began Tuesday, DiGiovanni said he was grateful that the county took on a project that the city lacked the resources to do alone.

The county is clearing the vegetation away at no cost to the city, Dick said, although Inverness did rent a crane to help launch the harvester into the pond that is thick with vegetation.

The county aquatics workers had the time to clear Cooter Pond because the drought has prevented them from doing their normal lake maintenance activities for this season, Dick said.

Normally, his workers would be patrolling the Tsala Apopka chain of lakes to spray for weeds and keep the channels clear for boats to use, Dick said. But with the east-side boat ramps closed due to the low water levels, Dick said, his workers cannot get out to the lakes to do that work.

"We were looking to do other projects that need to be done," Dick said. "The city and the county have talked about Cooter Pond for the last several years . . . and we're just happy to be a good neighbor."

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