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Officials find little interest in flood control planning
By BILL COATS
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2000
LUTZ -- Chalk it up to one more casualty of the drought: County officials can't get people interested in flooding problems.
"We sent out over 3,000 fliers and we got 25 people," moaned Hillsborough engineer Horatiu Droc, the county's project manager for a study of the Cypress Creek Watershed, at Thursday night's public meeting on the study. "That's less than 1 percent. I was expecting more people."
Just over two years ago, things would have been different, officials agreed.
El Nino rainfall was drenching the area, and residents were clamoring for the county to figure out flooding problems. Concerns were especially high in Lutz, which has developed over a century amid a chain of lakes and swamps.
Consequently, the county accelerated a long-sought study of drainage in nine major watersheds.
The study covered watersheds in Keystone and Odessa last year, when lake levels were normal and memories of El Nino were fresh. Public meetings drew 100 people or more.
But now, La Nina has gripped the area in dryness. Flooding may be the last worry.
"That's why we have such a low turnout, in my opinion," said Robert Johnson, project manager for URS Greiner Woodward Clyde, a consulting firm conducting the study for Hillsborough County.
About 20 people came to the first meeting on the Cypress Creek Watershed in February. Discussion was dominated by drainage problems at Hog Island Lake, which rises in the rain but falls more slowly than other lakes.
Last week, even at Hog Island, the focus was on drought.
"It's the lowest I've ever seen in 27 years," said Sonny Fernandez, who lives on the lake. "My wife has lived there for 55 years, and it's the lowest she's ever seen."
The meeting did cover flooding.
Engineers proposed three solutions at Hog Island, which is between Newberger and County Line roads. They include building a force main that would allow pumping from Hog Island westward to Lake Kell.
Elsewhere in the watershed, which covers eastern Lutz, they proposed rebuilt culverts, new or improved ditches, and in some cases, new drainage systems. At two spots in southeast Lutz, they suggested that the county buy land and build retention ponds on it.
Despite the limited public input, the engineers believe they know about the major problems. Flooding complaints to the county were mapped in detail during El Nino. And engineers studied aerial photos taken then, said Johnson, the consultant.
"The next meeting will be in late July or early August," he said. "If there's some rain, maybe there will be some turnout."
-- Bill Coats can be reached at 226-3469 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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