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Rain spoils ditch repair, so city workers fix it again

About 340 cubic yards of soil and $1,000 worth of grass seed were put on the banks. Then the rain came.

By MIKE SAEWITZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Rain has frustrated the city's effort to beautify and stabilize walls along a canal that runs through the Lake Pasadena neighborhood.

The city recently laid about 340 cubic yards of soil and $1,000 worth of grass seeds atop the walls, said Mike Connors, the city's director of engineering, stormwater and transportation, but Thursday's daylong soaking caused small chunks of the soil and undeveloped seeds to drop into Bear Creek.

The dirt flowed west to form small, malt-brown beaches of sediment in the middle and along the sides of the canal, which splits Burlington Avenue N into two one-way roads from 52nd to 58th streets.

"We're victims of hope that Mother Nature would allow that grass to grow and develop a root structure faster than it did," said Connors, who on Friday sent a crew to remove the sediment, repack the soil and reseed the grass. It's hoped the soil will prevent further "structural failure" while "enhancing the aesthetics" of the Bear Creek canal.

For residents, who use a bridge to visit their across-the-street neighbors, the project has quickly become "a joke" in the neighborhood, said Joe Arms.

"You think that soil will hold?" a neighbor from across the canal yelled to Arms as he angrily pointed out the rapid erosion.

"I'm baffled," Arms said. "My tax dollars are washing away as we talk, and it p---es me off."

Connors said the city started the project about 21/2 months ago after the bottom of the concrete walls, called the toe, "kicked out" in several areas. At the same time, several residents called Connors to complain about the "aesthetics" of the ditch.

Instead of adding more concrete, Connors said, he decided to send two stormwater maintenance crew members to lay 4- to 5-foot mounds of soil on top of each concrete wall, as well as grass seeds.

"The dead weight of the soil is a detriment to the toe of the wall kicking out," Connors said.

The crew members have visited the canal to water the seeds a couple of times in the past two months, Connors said, but the seeds did not take hold in time for the rain.

Crew members were at the canal Friday, removing the sediment beaches, which Connors described as an "insignificant volume" of soil. Connors said he's not worried about the sediment buildup causing flooding on Burlington, but he does not want it to flow into and make the Menorah Manor wetland shallower.

In the face of predictions of more rain, Connors ordered the soil to be repacked and the grass reseeded. And again, if necessary.

"Our cost is limited to the $1,000 worth of seeds," said Connors, who added that the job would have cost between $30,000 and $40,000 had the city hired a contractor.

The department will monitor levels of dirt in the canal on the weekend and send crew members to remove additional sediment if necessary, he said.

Arms, though he supports the city's project, expressed skepticism at the city's methods. "It's a good idea," Arms said. "I'm all for encouraging green growth. The city could have done this differently."

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