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Eminent domain would ease way for Clam Bayou restoration

Tons of trash have been removed from Clam Bayou since Kurt Zuelsdorf started his cleanup program in mid 2006, offering volunteers a free kayak rental if they collected a bag of garbage.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Tons of trash have been removed from Clam Bayou since Kurt Zuelsdorf started his cleanup program in mid 2006, offering volunteers a free kayak rental if they collected a bag of garbage.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District will ask St. Petersburg to condemn two properties to complete the Clam Bayou restoration project.

The properties are in an undeveloped area east of the bayou, where Swiftmud plans to build a stormwater retention pond as part of the multimillion-dollar project.

The city had begun negotiating with one property owner but had trouble contacting the other, the St. Petersburg Times reported in April.

The decision to pursue eminent domain was approved by Swiftmud's Pinellas-Anclote River Basin Board on June 4 and is scheduled for consent by Swiftmud's Governing Board on Tuesday. The provision includes $200,000 to cover the city's condemnation process.

"It came from discussions with St. Pete where they indicated, since it was a cooperative project, that they needed a request," said Janie Hagburg, senior engineer for the project.

If the measure is approved Tuesday, Swiftmud will make that formal request to the city.

The city's director of real estate and property management, Bruce Grimes, said he hadn't heard anything about Swiftmud's intentions.

"As soon as we get such a request we will take it to council and see how they want to proceed," Grimes said.

Clam Bayou has long been plagued by trash and sediment that flow there through an antiquated stormwater system in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The city has already bought more than 60 lots in preparation for the project, which will reroute the stormwater through a series of ponds and restore more than 120 acres of wetlands.

Todd Pressman, co-chairman of the Pinellas board and vice chairman of the Governing Board, said he was confident that the city had expended all other options in trying to acquire the properties.

"When you say the words 'eminent domain' everyone is very concerned and very cautious," Pressman said. "Personally, that's not just the last step, that's the last step after you have tried and tried."

Nick Johnson can be reached at nickjohnson@sptimes.com or 893-8361.

Eminent domain would ease way for Clam Bayou restoration 06/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2008 8:23am]
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