LARGO – After hearing 17 Largo residents, many representing more of the neighbors, complain about extensive sewer problems in the area around Kent Place Dec. 17, Mayor Pat Gerard turned to city staff for an explanation.
“I’m embarrassed to be sitting here listening to this, because every time I’ve asked questions about this problem I’ve gotten, ‘Well, people don’t complain, it’s really not that bad a problem, we have right-of-way issues,’” she said, her voice tense with anger. “I mean, seriously, what the hell?”
City staff had minimized the problem to the commissioners, she said. She offered an apology to the more than 30 residents from Kent Place who came to the commission meeting.
“I know we have legal issues involved, and you know what? I don’t care. We need to get it fixed,” she said.
For about 50 minutes, the Kent Place residents had described what they called “third-world” conditions: horrible smells while city workers pumped out backed up sewage once a week and stormwater overflows that contaminate the neighborhood and Allen’s Creek to hazardous levels. One woman said sewer backwashed out of her toilet, flooding her bathroom 11 months ago. Other speakers said they knew their neighbors had the same problem.
As president of the Allen Creek Property Owners Association, Roberta Hasken said she represented about 73 properties, with an assessed tax value of $36 million, though 17 of those properties are outside of Largo city limits. The sanitary sewer system has been an “aggravation for 37 years,” she said. She and many residents were upset that the city didn’t have the Kent Place neighborhood in the budget for capital improvements within the near future.
“Rather than fix the problem, Largo sends two men and a truck into our neighborhood every Friday, so our neighbors get to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of continual preventative sewer maintenance,” she said. “We don’t like it, and after 37 years, we’re very tired of it.”
The two workers are in the neighborhood so often that they exchange Christmas cards with some of the residents, she added.
“On any day that the city pumps, for about a day and a half, sometimes for the entire week, the entire area smells like sewer,” said attorney John Brunson, representing several residents. “Does the city of Largo recognize that this is a problem?”
Commissioner Curtis Holmes asked Environmental Services Director Irvin Kety if anything he had heard during the extensive descriptions was new information to him.
“No,” Kety said, adding that he wasn’t sure if the complaints pertained to overflows that occurred because of a failed valve in July. “I’ve not received any telephone calls since we replaced the valve that failed in the system.”
Further, Kety said he in the seven years since he’s been working at the city of Largo, he never received a call about Kent Place prior to July.
“If they call, we respond. No call,” he said.
City Manager Mac Craig said he personally could attest that the city had not received any complaints from the neighborhood during his tenure in Kety’s position.
Kety did acknowledge that the stormwater system around Kent Place had issues. His department has about 20 other “hot spots” that are pumped out on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis.
But Kety told the commissioners that he preferred to address Kent Place’s problems in the system-wide sanitary sewer upgrades the city currently is working on. Even if the city began the project tomorrow, it would still take about two years for the problems at Kent Place to be addressed.
“That project is not something that can be done quickly,” he said.
Commissioners agreed to hold a work session about the various issues, and asked staff to make the Kent Place problems a priority.
After the meeting, Hasken said she thought the commissioners had heard the residents, but wondered if the complaints resonated with city staff. The residents have called to complain, she said.
“I don’t think (the calls) filter up,” she said, adding that her neighbors also have developed apathy after years of the issue going unresolved.
The sewer issue wasn’t scheduled on the commission agenda Dec. 17. The Kent Place residents passed around citizen comment cards in the lobby of city hall before the meeting started, consolidating their voices to some of the speakers who were given a longer time at the podium.