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Soaked neighborhood looks for help from St. Petersburg

A new drainage plan will provide nearly 20 times the current drainage capacity, an official says. Residents remain skeptical.

By TODD WRIGHT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 1, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Carmen and Brian Burkhart saw 1250 17th Ave. N as the perfect place for their new home.

Plans for their two kids to walk across the street to attend school and church at St. Paul Catholic Church and its school made it the ideal place for the family.

On June 19, those sunny dreams turned into a cloudy nightmare after a severe thunderstorm put the newly built foundation of the house under more than 2 feet of water.

"It was traumatizing," said Mrs. Burkhart, who inspected the damage to her 5,800-square-foot property minutes after the rainstorm ceased.

After talking to neighbors, Mrs. Burkhart found out flooding in this part of the Euclid-St. Paul neighborhood is common. She said city officials told her and her husband that drainage problems were minimal before the couple bought the property. The Burkharts have invested $50,000 in the project so far.

"I would have never bought it if I had any idea it was going to be a lake every time it rained," she said.

Mike Connors, engineering and stormwater director for St. Petersburg, and chief drainage engineer Dan Saunders met with her and 25 other residents last week about what has been an ongoing problem in the neighborhood.

Connors discussed plans to improve the Booker Creek drainage basin, which would cost $5.7-million and be completed June 2003.

"The problem of house flooding is a major concern of the city. This project is a top priority," Connors said.

The Booker Creek Basin is the largest of 26 drainage areas in the city, stretching from 33rd Avenue N through to Roser Park. The underground drainage system for the Euclid-St. Paul neighborhood consists of 12- and 18-inch pipes that connect to two 48-inch pipes, which channel water to Woodlawn Lake and Booker Creek.

The new plan will have a box culvert, 10 feet by 5 feet, allowing for "close to 20 times as much more drainage capacity," Connors said. There will also be eight storm drain inlets at each intersection in the area.

The new system will be expected to handle a storm that drops anywhere from 3 inches of rain in a 60-minute period to 9 inches of rain over an entire day. The box culverts will empty into Woodlawn Lake but first must connect with the Interstate 275 underground system. Connors said the Florida Department of Transportation must approve in order for plans to continue as scheduled.

Residents are skeptical. Some residents have lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years and have seen conditions only worsen despite city efforts.

"Every time it rains, you can go through here in a boat," said Eva Trued, who has lived at 1615 14th St. N for 33 years.

After the June 19 storm, many residents were left throwing items out of garages that filled with 6 to 12 inches of water. Connors received four house flooding calls from the area, but residents say many more go unreported.

Most house flooding is concentrated in the area near where 17th Avenue N and 14th Street intersect, considered the lowest point of the community. Residents estimate the area floods about four times a year.

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