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Tentative date set for bridge closure
County official says the earliest contractor can begin work on Park Boulevard Bridge is Sept. 28
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BELLEAIR BEACH – A 30-day closure of the Park Boulevard Bridge for upgrades will not take place until late September, at the earliest.

Richard Coates, director of transportation and stormwater for the Pinellas County Department of Environment and Infrastructure, told members of the Barrier Islands Government Council July 30 that Seacoast Inc. of Oldsmar would not be able to begin the closure until Sept. 28.

“We had a pre-construction meeting with the contractor last week and the soonest they can be ready to close the bridge is Sept. 28,” said Coates. “I realize that is about a month later than the BIG-C would like to see. Assuming all the preliminary work and foundation work is done, the 30-day clock would start on Sept. 28.”

Coates said the U.S. Coast Guard has committed to coordinating the north and south bridges so the traffic will move as efficiently as possible during detours.

He added that Seacoast would be required to open the bridge for traffic within 72 hours of a hurricane.

Additionally, emergency management plans call for a Sunstar ambulance to be stationed on the beach during the closure to better handle emergencies.

Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni said Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters suggested an electronic sign be placed on Park Boulevard to warn motorists of the closure 30 days in advance and Coates said he would take care of it.

The project, which has been proposed since last fall, is expected to take 120 days but the closure would last only 30 days.

Seacoast was awarded a contract for $834,685 to perform the work on June 24.

A month ago, Coates said Morroni suggested a time between November and December but beach leaders didn’t agree.

Indian Shores Mayor Jim Lawrence suggested September because of the lack of tourism that month.

Project Manager Tom Menke said it was feasible for a September start but everything would have to fall into place perfectly.

According to county officials, the project is necessary because the bridge machinery is undersized, which has resulted in previous closings.

The work will consist of installation of primary reducers and brakes, trunnion hub reinforcement, buffer repair, live load shoe and nose lock shimming, bridge balancing and maintenance painting.

During the 30-day closure, motorists can use alternative routes to the beaches via the Walsingham Road and Tom Stuart Causeway bridges in Indian Rocks Beach and Madeira Beach.

The Park Boulevard Bridge was built in 1979, connecting Park Boulevard with the barrier islands.

Climate changes

Libby Carnaham, an agent for Florida Sea Grant and a University of Florida/IFAS Extension agent, gave BIG-C members a presentation on efforts to coordinate science and government leaders on issues involving climate change through a recently formed organization called the Scientific Climate Advisory Board.

The board, which represents scientists in a multi-state region, met for the first time in January and ultimately hopes to work toward a sea level rise projection for the region.

“In late January, all this information was presented to the Board of County Commissioners in Pinellas County and they were supportive of the county and UF Extension staff continuing these efforts and working regionally to plan for climate change,” said Carnahan.

Among the participants locally will be the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, which will work closely with coastal managers; Tampa Bay Estuary program, which has authored a Gulf Coast community handbook to help coastal managers plan for climate change; researchers from the University of South Florida who have collaborated on a book, and the National Weather Service in Ruskin, which will be producing storm surge warning assessments.

Florida Sea Grant, established under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is also on board. Sea Grant is a university-based program that supports research, education and extension to conserve coastal resources and promote economic opportunities in the state.

EMS update

Bruce Moeller, Pinellas County's interim chief of staff, said the components of a recent EMS agreement with the city of St. Petersburg would figure in the ongoing negotiations toward agreements with 17 other fire districts in the county.

“The good news is we have a good system here with a lot of passionate committed people,” said Moeller. “The bad news is we have a great system with some passionate people. Sometimes that passion we have gets in the way of conversation.”

Moeller said first responder and transport response on the beaches is in good shape.

“We’re meeting the requirements, which is 7 1/2 minutes for the fire department, and 10 minutes for the ambulance,” he said. “We exceed that. We do struggle sometimes with Sunstar, mostly in the Redingtons. But when I look at first responder performance, 90 percent of the time they have to reach the benchmark and they’re meeting it about 94 percent to 98 percent of the time.”

When asked about possible upgrades for water rescue, Moeller said the focus could come in the form of better training.

“Between 2009 and present we’ve had over 1,700 calls for water rescue,” he said. “The good news is about 40 percent of the calls are unfounded. But there are still sizeable groups of people who need to be rescued. What we need to come up with is a more comprehensive approach, looking specifically at the training that’s necessary.”
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