NEW PORT RICHEY – Disgusted by the lack of progress at the dilapidated Walden Pond Mobile Home Park, the City Council decided Tuesday night to hire its own contractor to raze 52 condemned mobile homes and clean up the site.
The $62,000 bill for the work will be sent to Walden Pond LLC.
The vote came after a tense exchange between council member Bob Langford and Paul Beraquit, one of the park's four owners, after city staff put on a slide show of destroyed mobile homes and massive trash piles that have accumulated since a Dumpster was removed from the park a couple of months ago.
Beraquit again pleaded for more time, saying Walden Pond has begun asbestos studies needed to begin demolition and will send someone to monitor the park at different hours of the day.
That wasn't enough for the council.
"Why haven't you done anything?" Langford asked, his voice booming through the microphone.
"What do you mean?" replied Beraquit, shocked by the flash of anger from Langford.
Langford blasted Beraquit for not completing any of the items in a verbal settlement outlined at the Oct. 2 council meeting, including trash cleanup, 24-hour onsite security and payment of a water bill to the city, now approaching $36,000.
"You were supposed to have security," Langford boomed.
Beraquit said he couldn't afford it.
"I don't care," Langford replied.
"Well I care, because I can't afford it," Beraquit shot back.
"It's not our problem, it's yours. You created this. You're not being a responsible person at all about this!" Langford said.
"Okay," Beraquit finished.
Voices then lowered as the hearing moved on, but other council members still had tough words for Beraquit. Council member Bill Phillips lamented that there are still people living in the park surrounded by "filth."
"The safety aspect of it bothers me. It really does," he said.
About two dozen people are still living in the park along Oelsner Street, just off U.S. 19, in about 12 mobile homes that have not been condemned. They are the last remaining residents since Walden Pond sent a letter in July telling residents they had to leave because the park was going to close.
It set off a firestorm of looting and squatting that still continues.
The people living there legally are renters who have not yet been evicted, or who own their mobile homes on the park property, according to the city.
"It's just a deplorable location right now," said Mayor Bob Consalvo.
Beraquit sat down in the front row of City Hall chambers and watched as the council voted to take over demolition and clean-up of his park. The council agreed to use a low bid of $62,000 obtained by Public Works Director Sherman Applegate.
The city will hire SC Signature Construction, the firm that recently completed the demolition of the dilapidated Port Richey Mobile Home Park, not far north along U.S. 19 from Walden Pond.
Once the project is complete, the city will send Walden Pond a bill for the work, as well as the water bill and all costs accrued by the city's public works, police and code enforcement in dealing with the situation in recent months, Assistant City Attorney Jim Lang said.
If the bill is not paid within a certain time frame, the city could place a lien on the property. The city had tried to negotiate a settlement in which Walden Pond would pay $40,000 for the expenses incurred by the city. But the company didn't agree to that amount. In the meantime, the city's costs are only growing, Lang said.
As for the remaining residents, Applegate said once demolition and cleanup is complete, the park will be fenced off, except for access points allowing residents to enter and leave their homes. There will also be room for emergency vehicles to enter and leave the premises to serve the remaining residents, he said.