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Date of Issue: September 20, 2007

Storm brewing in Anna Maria over stormwater project

hb-bridge.jpg
An emotional Rick DeFrank, left, argues with Anna Maria city engineer Tom Wilcox at the Sept. 13 commission workshop on the merits of a $540,000 stormwater improvements project backed by the city commission and 50 percent funded by a Southwest Florida Water Management District grant. The commission has spent three years preparing the project. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

Anna Maria city commissioners should have been prepared for an outpouring of negative public comment at its Sept. 19 neighborhood workshop to discuss the planned $540,000 stormwater improvements project that has been under consideration by the commission the past three years.

In the opinion of project opponent Rick DeFrank, who spoke strongly against the plan at the commission’s Sept. 13 work session, city residents are also adamantly opposed to the project.

DeFrank claimed that at the Aug. 22 neighborhood informational meeting on the project, “everyone spoke against it. They don’t want this plan. We did this once before and we are heading down the same road.”

DeFrank was alluding to a Southwest Florida Water Management District project in the late 1990s that angry residents denounced as harmful, not helpful, to their respective property. Then-Mayor Chuck Shumard and the city commission quickly pulled the plug on that project midway through completion and gave Swiftmud inspectors and engineers the “swift” boot from the city.

Nothing has changed since then, claimed DeFrank.

People now “don’t want this project as it exists today,” he alleged, because it will tear up their property rather than improving the drainage in the affected area and improving the quality of the runoff into Tampa Bay.

“I don’t see how this is helping anyone. We are rehashing old news,” he said. DeFrank also claimed that residents have not had enough time to provide input on the project. The public is “uninformed,” he alleged.

Although billed as a “neighborhood workshop,” the Aug. 22 meeting was anything but neighborly. In fact, some residents were so vocally opposed to the project that tempers flared and a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy was called to quell the disturbance.

According to DeFrank, the same people at the Aug. 22 meeting were likely to show up at the Sept. 18 workshop.

“I just don’t think we need this project,” an emotional DeFrank reiterated to commissioners. “I have facts and figures. We don’t know if this project is going to work or make things worse.”

He also said that Swiftmud had advised the city 10 years ago to “clean up what you have and I don’t think we’ve done any of that.”

But city engineer Tom Wilcox had a different view.

The project will improve the flow of drainage into Tampa Bay and eliminate many of the major areas of flooding within the project boundaries. In addition, he said, the quality of the stormwater runoff into Tampa Bay will be improved and that’s an area the city has to address.

Currently, the Florida Department of Transportation only requires cities to address stormwater runoff, but the day may come when such measures are “mandatory,” Wilcox said.

DeFrank also bashed the city’s capital improvements advisory committee, claiming he’s gone to many meetings on stormwater improvements where “you can speak, but no one listens. I’m not getting any answers.”

But city commissioners were generally pleased with the project, which has been years in the making.

Commissioner Dale Woodland, who has spearheaded the project for the city since before the grant application was submitted several years ago, said the commission has been looking at this project for a long time. At previous neighborhood meetings and as a work session agenda item, no one has spoken in opposition.

“Hardly anyone showed up at our first work session, so I was surprised by the August turnout. And there was not a lot of positive input at that meeting. In fact, there’s a lot of disinformation out there about the project,” Woodland observed.

As an example, said Woodland, he’s met a number of people who firmly believe the city will dig ditches and swales on some streets, including Hardin and Palm avenues. “That’s just not true,” he said.

In fact, the vast majority of work will be in city alleyways, where swales will be dug and drainage pipes installed.

Woodland said he hoped people who attended the Sept. 18 work session would be respectful of the commission and each other. But the drainage issue has been around in Anna Maria since he was a boy and it’s not easy to solve to everyone’s satisfaction.
“Some people, no matter what we do, are not going to be happy,” he said.

The project is funded by a matching Swiftmud grant for $270,000. The city’s portion of the money comes from the $1 million line of credit established by the commission last year for the 2007-08 budget.

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