Clearwater to drill new wells though some Countryside residents still object

CLEARWATER — The questions were about sinkholes, dried-up wells, money and saltwater intrusion into the aquifer.

About 50 Countryside residents grilled city officials Wednesday night about Clearwater's plans to drill drinking water wells near their neighborhoods. The city brought a slew of engineers, consultants, charts, maps and diagrams to a community meeting at the Countryside Recreation Center to answer questions.

Some people left the meeting at least somewhat reassured. Others remain vocally opposed to the project.

"They need to find another way," said Dr. Louis Alan Zagar, a resident of the area's Northwood West neighborhood, which is to be surrounded by new wells. "They're saying that if anything happens, good luck, you're on your own."

Clearwater officials say they're satisfied with scientific evidence supporting the city's plan to drill 13 new wells to pump drinking water from deep underground. They say the city must find more sources of fresh water, and they're confident that the wells won't cause sinkholes and won't affect homeowners' residential wells.

The City Council agreed last month to go ahead with this. The city recently started the project by fixing some old wells that had broken down. But before Clearwater begins drilling new wells, the council wanted to hold one more community meeting to try to allay the fears of Countryside residents. Six of the 13 new wells are to be clustered in an area near Countryside Mall.

Scores of people milled around the recreation center's meeting room Wednesday night, studying diagrams and quizzing City Council members and city staffers. Several approached City Manager Bill Horne and council member Carlen Petersen, both of whom live in or near Northwood West. People asked them: Are you really not worried about sinkholes?

"Some people are apprehensive and want to be reassured," Horne said.

Other Countryside residents are firmly opposed to the wells and are considering some kind of legal action, and even hired a videographer to wander around and tape the proceedings Wednesday night.

Harold Becker fears sinkholes and saltwater intrusion, and cites scientific data that he says refutes what the city's experts are saying. Gary Shellenberger doubts that Clearwater will save as much money as the city thinks it will by producing more of its own drinking water.

Sandy Nettles, a Northwood resident and hydrogeologist who deals with sinkholes professionally, says he's not opposed to Clearwater's plan for more wells, but he's questioning some of the plan's details.

"There's no question we need to do this," he said. But he's seeking more data from the city so he can investigate whether the grouping of Northwood wells is likely to cause saltwater intrusion from Tampa Bay into the underground water supply.

Many homeowners wanted an ironclad guarantee from the city that the deep water wells will never cause any problems. But the city wouldn't give them that.

City engineering director Mike Quillen's answer was that no scientist or engineer would ever issue a 100 percent guarantee. But he stressed that the city is confident it's doing the responsible thing.

Horne, the city manager, said, "We're going to proceed with the project," unless dramatic new information comes out that persuades the city to change its plans.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Clearwater to drill new wells though some Countryside residents still object 07/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 2, 2009 7:49pm]

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