South Tampa residents study canal dredging plan

10/25/07 Mitch E. Perry
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For years, several hundred homeowners in South Tampa have had their backyard canals severely clogged, but nothing has ever been done to clean that up due the prohibitive costs.

But the city has been working on a dredging plan with members of the community that , in conjunction with money from the city and a federal grant, would include an $8,000 assessment on homeowners who would have their canals cleaned up.

But not everybody in the community is down with that proposal. Divisiveness erupted early at today's City Council meeting when the city allowed private citizen Mike Wigner from the group, Canal Preservation and Restoration Group to speak. That immediately led to catcalls from opponents of the proposal, who were outshouted by Council Chairwoman Gwen Miller.

Although the City Council discussion was a workshop, which means no public comment is usually taken, a previous announcement had listed the meeting as a public hearing, which brought several citizens to City Hall to weigh in. After considerable back and forth, the Council allowed citizens one minute to voice their opinion.

The plan being considered would take a $1.3 million federal grant, matched by $1 million from the city, and homeowners in the area would pay an $8,000 fee. The fee could be broken up into annual payments of $600 over 20 years, the homeowner could accept a lien that gets paid off when the property is sold, or pay the fee all at one time.

But Davis Islands resident Fran Marshall said the question is simply about the money to clean up the canals, and who’s going to pay for it.

Sam Mirabella said the city hasn’t been truthful in its negotiations with residents, communicating only with the supporters of the plan that would assess citizens, and not those who oppose it.

John Grandoff is a practicing attorney who says he fishes on Lake Kipling. He said the Tampa Port Authority needed to be part of the equation, because it controls all navigable waters and submerged lands in Hillsborough County. He then distributed copies of his TRIM notice, which showed that he paid $100 last year to the Port Districts.

That piqued the interest of Councilman Joe Catano, who said he wanted to get a legal opinion from city staff regarding the Port Authority.

The Council voted to have the Legal Department come back with an opinion on that. The next public hearing on the issue will be on Dec. 18 at 5:30 p.m.

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