BELLEAIR BLUFFS – A much needed dredging and cleanup of the Belleair Bluff’s retention ponds continues to be delayed as the city and affected residents are at odds over property rights issues.
The pond maintenance debate in the Dolphin Drive neighborhood has dragged on now for several years, and a discussion of the topic at the City Commission’s Feb. 25 meeting revealed little progress toward settlement.
“(Resolution of the issue) is an ongoing process,” Public Works Director Robert David told the commission as he cited new issues with property easement language and one neighbor’s concern over the welfare of his cypress trees.
As the city continues to press its demand that all residents grant permanent easements on their property and compliance issues continue, the ponds continue to fill with sediment and other debris.
The ponds’ maintenance is important because they are used by the city as retention ponds for flood control. The accumulated sediments also are putting fish and wildlife species at risk. The issues appeared close to settlement last October when the commission unexpectedly rejected a bid to dredge the ponds when an easement agreement had been promised.
Since that time, the city and the residents’ representative have traded accusations and demands, while the ponds’ condition has continued to deteriorate.
“The waters are getting murkier and the issues are cloudier than ever,” Mayor Chris Arbutine declared at the latest commission meeting. When told the cost of revising easement language and clarifying the cypress tree issue could run $600 to $800 per resident and total several thousand dollars, Arbutine said, “We are going overboard to appease concerns that don’t exist and fears that don’t have any basis in reality.”
As to the cypresses, “We are being asked to spend thousands of dollars to protect trees that may not even be there in 10 years.”
Arbutine said he was too frustrated at this point “that little details, minutiae, are holding up everything.”
Arbutine told David to “get everybody in a room, discuss the issues, and bring back something solid.”
That has been done (and failed) before, but David agreed to give it another try.
“We are all frustrated,” said David.
New fire station lease
A new fire station on city owned property behind City Hall has moved closer to reality with the starting of work on a lease agreement for the facility, Arbutine announced.
Arbutine said he had met with county official Mike Cooksey about forming a lease agreement. Largo will build the building and pay for the majority of it. Belleair Bluffs will own and maintain the station, then lease it to Largo Fire Rescue, Arbutine said. About a quarter of the fire district is in unincorporated Pinellas County, and the county is responsible for that portion of the station costs.
“Let’s get a lease agreement that makes sense,” Arbutine said he told Cooksey.
City’s 50th Anniversary kickoff coming
“Everything is coming together” for a residents-only reception to begin the celebration of the city’s 50th anniversary, said Commissioner Taylour Shimkus, who is chairing the event.
All Belleair Bluffs residents are invited to attend the event, which will be held 7 to 9 p.m. on Monday, March 18. Make reservations to 584-2151 by March 8.