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Rain brings fleas, rats, mosquitoes -- Oh, my!

Boyer Street in Tarpon Springs is a muddy mess. A project was supposed to improve drainage, but the street has been ripped up for weeks.

By KATHERINE GAZELLA

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 29, 2000


TARPON SPRINGS -- This is the view from Gianna Artrip's front door: The street is muddy and full of water-filled holes the size of kiddie pools. After it rains, water stands for hours or even days. Her neighbors complain of rats roaming the street.

The problem is caused by a project that was supposed to improve the poor drainage on Boyer Street in Tarpon Springs. Instead, the street has been ripped up for about a month. The flooding problems began about two weeks ago because there is no place for water to drain.

How bad is it?

Last week, Donna Hulen tried to leave the home she shares with Artrip and her electric wheelchair got stuck in the mud. Hulen, who has diabetes, has limited use of her legs and must be carried if she wants to go somewhere, Artrip said.

"It's getting outrageous," she said.

The mud also trapped a car so badly that it had to be towed out last week. Until a couple of days ago, residents hadn't had their mail delivered or their trash picked up for at least a week. The standing water has invited rats, fleas and mosquitoes, residents complain.

"It's worse than a pigpen," said Yiannis Argyros, who lives down the street from Artrip.

Earlier this year, the city hired Southwest Contracting Inc. of Oldsmar to reconstruct sections of Boyer west of Alt. U.S. 19. The contract includes replacing all underground utilities, including water, sewer, stormwater and reclaimed water lines. The company also plans to replace the brick surface of the street.

The contractors are responsible for maintaining access to people's homes and ensuring that the drainage works properly, said Richard Hague, an engineering technician for the city. Southwest failed to do that, he said.

The company should have put up barriers around two catch basins at the corner of Boyer and Banana streets, Hague said. Instead, silt got inside and the catch basins weren't working at all, he said.

City Manager Ellen Posivach said the problems may result in legal action against the contractor.

"This is just not the way a contractor is supposed to do business with the city," she said.

But project manager Miller Manier said his company didn't do anything wrong. Based on plans received from the city, Southwest anticipated pulling up the brick street and finding an original road underneath it. Instead there was just sand, which meant the road was not as sturdy as the company anticipated, Manier said.

In addition, he said, the company ran into problems with the existing pipes, including a reclaimed water main and a stormwater pipe.

Because of the additional problems, he said, Southwest asked the city for approval to do work that wasn't part of the original $330,000 contract. He met with city officials two weeks ago, he said, but didn't receive approval for an additional $22,000 in expenditures until Friday.

If he had gotten a response sooner, he said, the company could have installed a drainage system at the corner of Boyer and Banana in time for the recent downpours.

"We're the convenient fall guy," he said. "The problem is, (we're) waiting a week and a half for a response."

Construction is expected to last at least six more weeks. In the meantime, Hague said, Southwest is cleaning out the catch basins and making other improvements.

City officials have contacted residents and plan to meet with them tonight to talk about their concerns. Any residents who have property damage from the construction are asked to send claims to the City of Tarpon Springs Engineering Department, 324 E Pine St., Tarpon Springs, FL 34689.

Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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