LARGO — There's something ironic about a mobile home community called "Paradise Island" that is 6 miles inland and sandwiched between another mobile home community and a busy county road.
The irony is deepened by the odor of sewage that Paradise Island residents say they sometimes smell as they walk along Caribbean Way, Antigua Lane, Barbados Lane and other similarly named roads in the 828-unit park.
The roads are named for places that engender images and sensations of the beach — palm trees and pina coladas, maybe the smell of a sunbather using too much sunscreen, but certainly not this stench.
So the residents and park management, who firmly believe that this funk is not their fault, have fought Largo city management for years to admit that the smell might be caused by the city. Last year they won a victory when the city agreed to fund a third-party study of the area's odor.
Later this summer, a Louisville, Ky., environmental engineering firm will start a $60,700 study designed to answer a question that has plagued Paradise Island residents for years: "What is that smell?"
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The smell, according to Paradise Island park manager Nancy Perry, has been a problem since at least the late 1990s. Perry thinks the smell's source is a gully that runs north-south between Paradise Island and Fairway Village, the 751-home community to the east.
Paradise Island's wastewater lines tie into the city's system at two points along the gully, and a 2009 sinkhole there spurred Perry to action. She asked Largo management to pay the $15,000 repair tab, because she thought the city's sewer lines caused the corrosion that led to the collapse.
City management initially turned her away, Perry said, claiming the problem was in the park's system. She went to her Fairway Village neighbors, though, and brought people from both communities to City Commission meetings, demanding action.
Perry brought laminated pictures of sewer pipes in the gully and pointed to spots of white and yellowish decay as evidence of corrosion.
She scored a victory last fall when city management agreed to pay for an odor and corrosion control study.
"We went to every single meeting, pounding away," she said Tuesday with pride. "I think they saw a growing tide. And I was not going to give up."
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"This has taken a long time," Mayor Pat Gerard said as she introduced the proposed study for discussion at last week's City Commission meeting.
Environmental Services director Irvin Kety explained to the commissioners that the complexity of the study, and finding the right company, delayed the process. The study's scope has widened to include areas around 142nd and 150th avenues between Lake Avenue and 58th Street.
Commissioner Harriet Crozier asked Kety whether the engineering company — Webster Environmental — will test Paradise Island's systems as well.
"We hired them specifically because their focus is only on odor issues in wastewater collection systems," Kety told Crozier. "If he feels that their well is an important component, he will include that in his sampling recommendations."
Webster engineers will take samples this summer, Kety told the commission, and city staffers will update commissioners in October. Webster engineers probably will want to test during the winter as well, so the study won't be complete until next spring.
Once done, staff members expect Webster engineers to pinpoint the source of the odor and provide a number of ways to neutralize it and any corrosion problems.
Largo management has not said the smell is definitely the city's fault, but Perry sees the fact that they're paying $60,700 for the study as a win.
"I'd like to think that we're going to help a lot of people," Perry said. "I just hate to think you have to fight so hard to get somebody to listen to you."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.