SULPHUR SPRINGS — Here we go again, Dennis Bell thought. Another pipeline, another battle.
In November 2004 a sewer line ruptured in front of Bell's house at 7802 N 12th St., flooding his yard and the surrounding neighborhood with 21-million gallons of smelly waste. Bell and two of his neighbors are still trying to collect money for damages in a lawsuit against the city.
Bell, a 55-year-old truck driver with three big dogs circling behind his fence, braced for another fight early this week over a leaking water pipeline just a few feet from the 2004 sewer break.
He had noticed water trickling through the cracked wall of the stormwater catch basin in front of his house early this month. About the same time, he said, he started losing water pressure inside.
"I can hardly take a shower," Bell said Monday.
After three visits from water department workers, the city took measures to fix the problem this week.
Many of Tampa's water and wastewater pipes are nearly 100 years old. Breaks and ruptures are common.
It turns out that the tap water running into the basin came from an old service line to Bell's house. Water department spokesman Elias Franco said new service connections were installed in the neighborhood last fall, but something was awry with how the old line got plugged.
The fix was expected to be completed this week.
Crews also have begun a $19-million project to replace about 5 miles of the wastewater pipe that broke in front of Bell's house in 2004. Crews will install new pipe along 13th Street rather than dig up 12th Street again.
Work is expected to be completed by next summer.
That could be sooner than the lawsuit filed by Bell, John Frezza and George Anderson is resolved.
Jawdet Rubaii, the Clearwater lawyer representing the neighbors, has said the city failed to do a thorough cleanup and has dragged its feet ever since. Now he wants the city to buy the residents' homes, rather than just pay damages. A judge is expected to rule on Rubaii's amendment soon. Mediation failed to settle the case two years ago.
"I get the impression the (City) Council has never heard of this, or they would be outraged," Rubaii said this week.
Gary Glassman, an assistant city attorney, said the city has met its responsibilities to the residents.
"I don't think that means we have to buy their houses," he said.
Bell's house is located along a narrow, wooded section of the Hillsborough River, about a mile east of Interstate 275. The property has a market value of $142,366, more than double his 2005 assessment after the sewage spill.
That means a bigger tax bill. Bell said he hates paying higher taxes for what he describes as poor service and indifference.
"I'm fed up with the city of Tampa," he said. "I wouldn't be living here if I wasn't on the river."