Safety Harbor Mayor Pam Corbino discusses with residents a railroad crossing that was left unrepaired.
By LEON M. TUCKER
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2001
SAFETY HARBOR -- Cleven "Cecil" Wyatt was not surprised when he got the call from Safety Harbor Mayor Pam Corbino.
Corbino asked Wyatt, a 26-year resident of the Brooklyn subdivision just north of downtown, if he would meet with her to discuss the deteriorated railroad crossing leading into his neighborhood, the subject of a St. Petersburg Times story March 26.
When Corbino arrived the next Sunday, Wyatt's living room was filled with neighbors whom he had invited to take part in the discussion.
The mayor and residents talked about how CSX Corp. made routine repairs to its old and worn railroad crossings throughout Safety Harbor last month, but passed on repairing the crossing at Railroad Avenue and Packard Court -- the gateway into the residents' neighborhood.
"She was receptive and she said she would get the track fixed," Wyatt said Tuesday. "And she agreed with us that it should have been done. It was a good little meeting."
City officials say the problems came about when CSX gave the city only one day's notice before track repairs were scheduled to begin.
So the city asked the railroad to repair only the Marshall Street crossing -- but not before city representatives visited business owners inside the Packard Court business complex and explained the dilemma.
The city, meanwhile, did not visit the Brooklyn area, a predominantly black neighborhood next to the business complex that officials had decided would not get the repairs.
Lennie Naeyaert, the city's engineer, said city officials wanted to meet with residents but found it difficult to notify the entire neighborhood on such short notice.
"If people couldn't get home or leave their homes for three days in a row it would have been irresponsible for us to do that especially with no alternate means to get in and out," he said. "To do otherwise would have been irresponsible. We had no real choice."
Matters worsened after CSX agreed to delay the work until a better time could be worked out.
CSX told the city that crews would come back and repair crossings into the Brooklyn subdivision and Packard Court, but it would be at the city's expense and won't happen for at least two months.
"These are the most uncooperative people to work with because they have absolute ownership of the right of way and only do the work on their terms," said Naeyaert. "Are we comfortable with this? No, because I would rather we go out there next week and do the work. We've been looking to get this work done but CSX has not been cooperative."
The city has not yet been told how much the work will cost, but based on an estimate the city secured for the crossing at Enterprise Road Naeyaert said the price could be as much as $90,000 per crossing.
"She (Corbino) made us feel good about how she was talking," Wyatt said. "But I'm skeptical because we've been through this before and haven't gotten anywhere."
Corbino could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but at Monday's City Commission meeting she told audience members and commissioners about her visit with Brooklyn residents.
"I met with Cecil and we had a real nice talk about what has been happening over there," she said. "We also talked about other things like lighting, sidewalks and drainage there and we will continue to do so."
A St. Petersburg Times article explaining the situation not only prompted Corbino to visit residents but newly elected Commissioner Robin Borland as well.
"I felt there were some holes in everything I had heard and read and that is why I wanted to go back and talk to the residents," Borland said. "But it seems like it's going to get taken care of and the people who live back there seem to be happy about what is going to happen. But if they are not, then they should certainly should speak up."