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Date of Issue: September 27, 2007

Anna Maria calm before the stormwaters

What a difference a day makes.

Regarding Anna Maria’s public workshops on its planned stormwater-drainage project, make that the difference of about a month.

After tempers flared and verbal outbursts escalated so high at the city’s Aug. 22 workshop that a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy had to step in to “calm the waters,” the Sept. 18 meeting looked like a church choir practice.

Public pleas by City Commissioner Dale Woodland, Mayor Fran Barford and Commission Chairman John Quam for residents to be civil at the Sept. 18 meeting seemed to have the desired effect. Then again, a Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputy was on hand to ensure civility.

Only about 20 residents attended the second workshop and most of the questions and comments directed to city engineer Tom Wilcox about the project were the ‘what if’ variety, not the name calling and threats of Aug. 22.

Residents wanted to know what would happen to the drainage system if a hurricane struck Anna Maria, if the system became eroded, if the new valves proposed didn’t work and if too much dirt got into the swales.

Wilcox answered that the city is using the latest technology and he is fully confident that the system will function properly in all conditions.

While residents had complained long and loud Aug. 22 that this project wasn’t wanted or needed, questions and comments Sept. 18 were appropriately civil.

Even Rick DeFrank, a vocal critic of the project, seemed to accept that the city was moving forward with the effort.

“I wish everyone a lot of luck. I hope it works,” he said, noting that the engineering design of swales in the project appear to be a “great improvement” over past projects.

Former Anna Maria City Commissioner Jay Hill observed that the public works department installed a duckbill valve in 2002, but was unable to maintain it properly and it wasn’t working. He wanted to know what had “changed” between now and five years ago.

If the proposed project doesn’t work, the city will have a “real problem” on its hands, he indicated.

“Why should we trust you now?” he asked.

Because, said Wilcox, the valves for this project are the “new and improved” variety and the PWD has to maintain the swales in accordance with Swiftmud guidelines.

“The new and improved model does work,” Wilcox said with confidence. “They’ll work for 30 years,” he added, while a flapper gate such as the city currently has in its stormwater system won’t work at all.

Hill wanted assurances that if the valves become clogged during a weather event, such as a storm, citizens can easily clean them in an emergency. He said during some previous storms, he never once saw anyone from PWD cleaning the system. Wilcox replied that regular citizens could easily clean the swales in an emergency.

Maybe, said resident Georgia Van Cleave, but “mistakes were made the last time,” referring to a botched stormwater drainage project in the late 1990s that angered a number of residents and forced the city commission to halt the project in mid-stream. She did, however, credit Wilcox with a lot of effort on the proposed project.

Not to worry, said Wilcox.

“This system will work better than what you have,” he predicted.

With new technology and more efficient swales and pipes that come with this project, the city’s storwmwater drainage into Tampa Bay will contain less pollutants and improve the water quality, said Wilcox. Additionally, it will eliminate much of the flooding that occurs in the city after even a normal rainfall.

Woodland, who has spearheaded the project for the commission for the past three years, said he was pleased at the civility of those who attended.

“I couldn’t have been happier with the meeting and there were some very good questions,” he said.

Although the drainage problem has been around the city since he was just a youngster, he believes that residents now are willing to give this project a chance to solve some long-standing issues.

Of course, he noted, “There are some people that you just can’t please with this system.”

And the system might be up and running sooner than anyone first thought possible.

The city has to have a contract signed by Jan. 1, 2008, to keep the grant. Wilcox said that bids on the project will go out in November and construction could begin in early 2008.

The project is Phase 2 of the city’s stormwater improvement plan. Half of the funding of the $540,000 project comes from a 50 percent matching grant from Swiftmud, while the city has a line of credit to cover its portion.

Woodland, who submitted the grant application, said Swiftmud approved the grant because of the city’s long-range plan for stormwater improvements and the fact that Phase 1 had been completed.

Project boundaries are generally along Pine Avenue to Gulf Boulevard; from Gulf Boulevard to Maple Street; Maple Street to North Shore, then to Magnolia Avenue and from Magnolia Avenue to South Bay Boulevard.