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    Drought changes plans for medians

    Seminole finds groundwater may not be an option for a beautification effort.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000


    SEMINOLE -- It sounded like a good idea at the time.

    The city wanted to beautify the medians on Seminole Boulevard between Orange Blossom Lane and 102nd Avenue, all of which are either asphalt or grass. So it got a $150,000 matching grant for the project from the state Department of Transportation.

    The dozens of medians, a total of 11/2 acres, will get trees, shrubs and flowers. The city planned to drill a deep well at each end of the 21/2-mile project for irrigation.

    There's just one problem: the drought.

    In what may be the Tampa Bay area's driest year since rainfall totals were first recorded in 1890, city officials are re-evaluating whether to use groundwater to irrigate the landscaped medians.

    "It wouldn't set an appropriate example to the general public," said Mitch Bobowski, the city's general services director.

    So the city and landscape architect Phil Graham are considering dropping the irrigation system plan and using a 2,200-gallon tanker truck to sprinkle reclaimed water on the greenery.

    If the city modifies its original plans, it must resubmit paperwork to the state. Bobowski said workers probably will begin installing the plants and trees -- including Indian hawthornes, cabbage palms and crape myrtles -- in February.

    "This drought has really facilitated us reviewing the whole situation," Graham said.

    When designs for the project were drawn last year, he said, the city didn't own the watering truck. Plans included adding mostly drought-resistant plants and installing an underground watering system. Potable water was not an option, and the county's reclaimed water lines do not yet reach the area.

    But now Graham isn't sure the wells will be able to draw enough water to irrigate the medians. "The groundwater is just not there," he said.

    And even if it is, it may be too salty for watering plants, he said.

    The median project is part of a $1.2-million street beautification program that officials hope will give Seminole a distinctive look. The city wants to spruce up all 96 of its medians in the next five years.

    Plans call for planting palm trees and flowering plants and erecting welcome signs at the borders of town.

    The Seminole Boulevard project is the second major median improvement the city has undertaken in the past year. When it is complete, the medians will look similar to ones on Park Boulevard, where a joint city and Pinellas County project to add decorative foliage from the Intracoastal Waterway to Lake Seminole recently was completed.

    The city spent $275,000 to spruce up Park Boulevard from the Pinellas Trail to Lake Seminole, augmenting the work the county did from the intracoastal to the lake.

    In Largo, city commissioners last year voted against spending $90,000 to spruce up a stretch of Seminole Boulevard between State Road 686 and 126th Street N by installing plants and trees in the medians. State transportation officials had offered to pay half of the $180,000 cost.

    A majority of the commissioners said they were concerned about the costs of the initial planting and of the upkeep of the medians.

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