LARGO — Kent Place is an upper-class neighborhood of manicured lawns and expensive homes. It's also a place where sewage bubbles up from manholes and oozes across yards and driveways, making people gag from the stench.
At least that's how residents describe their neighborhood.
Residents of Kent Place, a private road off Belcher Road and next to Allen's Creek in northeastern Largo, say they've been putting up with sewage overflows and odors for years. In the past year, there have been threats of lawsuits.
But Largo is finally prepared to spend up to $150,000 investigating the cause of the problem, which has mystified city staffers.
The issue has come to a head now because Kent Place residents recently took their complaints directly to their elected officials. More than 30 of them showed up at a City Commission meeting just before Christmas. Neighbor after neighbor told horror stories of sewage running down the street, through yards and into Allen's Creek.
"When we have a major storm or huge rainfall, the sewer system backs up and starts overflowing into front yards ... fecal matter, condoms, used tampons, anything you can imagine," said Bert Schroeder, who lives at Kent and Belcher. "It smells bad. It's disgusting."
Dr. Robert Siegel, who lives on a side street called Haddon Hall Place, piled on. "Fecal bacteria and other toxic waste flow unimpeded over the neighboring properties, contaminating the soil where people walk and children play."
All of this came as a surprise to commissioners.
"I'm embarrassed to be sitting here listening to this," Mayor Pat Gerard said, "because every time I've asked questions about this problem, I've gotten, 'Well, people don't complain, it's really not that bad a problem, we have right-of-way issues.' I mean, seriously, what the hell?"
The mayor apologized to residents and said Largo's staff had minimized the problems to commissioners. "I know we have legal issues involved, and you know what? I don't care. We need to get it fixed," Gerard said.
Commissioners told the staff to make Kent Place a priority.
That led to a plan of action that was unveiled last week.
A consultant will be hired to diagnose the problem. Kent Place manholes will get water level sensors, flow monitors and "odor loggers" during both the dry and rainy seasons. The job will take eight months and cost $75,000 to $150,000.
"The time frame for doing this type of investigation is going to take a little bit longer than the commission may have hoped for at first," said Assistant City Manager Mike Staffopoulos.
Weirdly, the only sewage overflow that Largo has documented in the past seven years on Kent Place was a significant spill last July 4 that was caused by a faulty valve. "It was really catastrophic," said environmental services director Irvin Kety, who's in charge of Largo's sewers.
Kety said Kent Place residents generally have not complained to the city about sewage spills.
"I've not received any telephone calls since we repaired the valve that failed in the system," he said. "I've been here seven years. Before July, I never received a call. If they would call, we respond. They don't call."
City Manager Mac Craig, who held Kety's job from 2000 to 2004, also said he'd never heard complaints from Kent Place about sewage. He noted that excess stormwater sometimes poured into the manholes there, filling them with water.
At least one resident said he hadn't contacted city officials because he didn't think they would do anything.
The city acknowledges that its crews have been cleaning out that sewer line weekly for a decade. Grease and sediment collect in the pipe because it's low and it's flat, Kety said.
"Rather than fix the problem, Largo sends two men and a truck into our neighborhood every Friday," said resident Roberta Hosken, "so our neighbors get to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of continual sewer maintenance."
Contact Mike Brassfield at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.