Fixing south Brooksville must be our focus

During heavy rains, runoff pours into the neighborhood on either side of E Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard.

Roadside ditches overflow, yards flood and, on the south side of the boulevard, which is outside the limits of the city and not served by its sewer system, septic drain fields are inundated with storm water.

"You don't have to be Wernher von Braun to figure out what happens then," said Edmund Johnson, 74, a longtime resident of St. Francis Street in south Brooksville.

For you non-rocket scientists, here's the entire situation, spelled out: inadequate water lines, too few fire hydrants, a lack of storm sewers and in some houses — for hours or even days at a time — no working toilets.

Not all of the ideas County Administrator David Hamilton came up with when he first arrived nearly three years ago were good ones. As the County Commission rightly decided Tuesday, our judges don't need a freestanding judicial center, a local version of the Tallahassee Taj Mahal.

But he was right about south Brooksville: In the modern era, the living conditions there are unacceptable.

His solution was to make the neighborhood the focus of his first "community initiative." There are reasons to worry about the future of this program, but first you should know that despite the name — which invokes images hours of "brainstorming'' and "visioning,'' and very little actual work — there is progress to report in south Brooksville.

M.L. King was paved not too long ago. New street lights were shining when I visited Johnson's neighborhood Wednesday evening. Though the city's request for a $750,000 federal block grant has been turned down, the county received one for which it applied.

If the County Commission approves a $125,000 matching contribution on Tuesday, $875,000 will be available to replace the garden hose-size pipes on St. Francis and nearby Easy Street with an actual water main. There may be enough money to install sewer lines, said Joe Stapf, the county environmental services director. And since the pavement must be dug up anyway, Stapf said, the county will put in pipes that will begin to address the neighborhood's massive drainage problem.

It's a fraction of the work that needs to be done. But it's a start, and it wouldn't be possible without political support in the county and city.

I'm worried because, eventually, fixing south Brooksville is going to take a good deal of local money, and there's not much to go around and no appetite for raising more. I'm worried that, as Hamilton's judgment is questioned for his handling of the snake-bit dredge project and other matters, confidence in this idea may slip as well. And I'm worried because the only commissioner who fully bought into it was Rose Rocco.

South Brooksville is in Commissioner Jim Adkins' district, which makes him her natural replacement on the initiatives team. He would be willing to attend the meetings, he said, but doesn't know much about what's been decided so far.

Wayne Dukes, who defeated Rocco in last week's election, said: "South Brooksville is a challenge, but so is being $7 million in the hole." He was talking about next year's expected budget shortfall, which of course is a challenge.

But I'd say fixing south Brooksville is more than that. It's a necessity.

Fixing south Brooksville must be our focus 11/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 11, 2010 8:16pm]

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