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City OKs bridge bathrooms project
Belleair Causeway restrooms could be open by early next year
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BELLEAIR BLUFFS – A major obstacle holding up the construction of permanent restrooms on the Belleair Causeway Bridge has been removed. The city of Belleair Bluff’s Board of Adjustments has approved a variance that would exempt the county-owned facilities from having to meet flood plain requirements.

The action, which happened prior to the Nov. 19 City Commission meeting, clears the way for the building of stand-alone bathrooms on the bridge property. They will replace the portable facilities, which have drawn numerous complaints.

The county had requested the variance, which allows the restrooms to be built at ground level rather than 13 feet in the air. The elevation was needed to meet city code requirements as the bridge is in a flood zone.

Building the bathrooms to meet the flood plain requirements would have cost substantially more and could have killed the project, city Public Works Director Robert David said after the meeting.

The new restrooms will be built of reinforced concrete and be flood proof, David said. They will be stand-alone buildings separate from the planned bait house.

Prior to any known storm, the county will shut the bathrooms down, so there will be no backflow into the floodwaters or the sewer system, he said.

David said city officials are “pretty excited” about the variance decision which allows the restroom project to go forward. The portable toilets have been the only restroom facilities available to bridge and marina visitors since the bridge opened in 2009.

David praised Pinellas County Park and Recreation Director Paul Cozzie for filing the variance required, and

Belleair Bluffs Commissioner Suzy Sofer for leading the effort to get the restrooms approved. Sofer responded, “You asked for bathrooms, you got bathrooms.”

With construction now ready to begin, David said the new restrooms could be done in about 90 days.

The bait house is scheduled to be built in the next fiscal year, which begins in October 2013.

Pond dredging bid extended

A contractor’s bid to begin dredging of two ponds in the Dolphin Drive neighborhood has been extended, David announced. The commissioners had rejected the bid, in a 2-to-2-tie vote, at the October commission meeting. It had been due to expire that night. Commissioner Taylour Shimkus said she voted against the bid because she was told it had already expired. Commissioner Suzy Sofer was absent from that meeting.

Sofer said she was glad the bid was extended, indicating it may be accepted if reconsidered.

However, the city has demanded the affected residents give permanent easements on their property as a condition for maintaining the ponds. So far, they have refused to do so.

A letter from neighborhood representative Jeff Washburn dated Nov. 11 states the residents are willing to enter only into “limited-term easements with defined rights and responsibilities on the part of both parties.”

In an effort to resolve the problem, City Attorney Thomas Trask said the city is looking to hire a consultant to look into the clean water issues involved with the dredging and determine what the obligations of the city and residents are in the matter.

The ponds’ maintenance is important because they are used by the city as retention ponds for flood control. The lack of dredging has caused sediment and debris to accumulate in them, putting residents’ property at risk. Fish and wildlife have also been adversely affected.

Election qualifying period

Three commission members are up for election next spring: Commissioners Jack Nazario, Suzy Sofer, and Mayor Chris Arbutine.

The qualifying period for candidates wanting to run for the seats begins on Monday, Dec. 3 and ends Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 4 p.m. The election will be March 12.

The winners will serve two-year terms. Voters rejected a move to extend the terms to three years.
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