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New public works director tackles Dade City projects

DADE CITY — Gordon Onderdonk had his work cut out for him: two dozen pump stations needing upgrades, a stormwater master plan that's nearly a half-century old and problems with the Dade City's water permit application — not to mention a controversial project to build a reclaimed water silo in a neighborhood that doesn't want it.

Onderdonk, who came on board last month as Dade City's new director of public works, jumped in with both feet.

"It's exciting to start with a blank page in a small city," said Onderdonk, 35, who previously worked as a director of Adams Design, an engineering firm that does municipal work for St. Petersburg.

Onderdonk grew up in Lake Wales and earned his engineering degree in 2001 from the University of South Florida. He honed his skills in the practical aspects of structural and civil engineering with James Catalano, president of Catalano Engineering in Tampa. When he saw the posting on Career Builder for the Dade City public works job, Onderdonk decided to give it a shot.

Since moving into his office at City Hall on Nov. 1, Onderdonk has reviewed the files of his predecessor, Lennie Naeyaert, and is evaluating current projects and future needs of the city. He quickly recognized that water will be his top priority, and he pushed forward on upgrades to pumping stations that had been stalled.

"Utilities and stormwater need immediate attention," Onderdonk said. "First thing, we are restoring the Orange Valley Station up to its fullest pumping capacity, along with rehabbing all of our 28 pump stations."

Onderdonk also discovered that the city's stormwater master plan is 46 years old.

"I'm updating that plan to deal with summer flooding issues," he said. "It's going to be a challenge to modernize everything."

Then there was the unexpected snag with the city's 20-year water pumping permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Naeyaert filed for the new permit before he left, but the agency said it received inconsistent documentation from the city. The upshot: The application is to pump about 1.2 million gallons per day, even though the city currently uses about 1.4 million gallons daily.

"You never ask for less water than you need, or for less than the present average yearly consumption," said Onderdonk, who met with Swiftmud officials last week to review the discrepancies in the application. "We'll probably need to file for an extension to modify these numbers."

Onderdonk also inherited the firestorm over plans for a reclaimed water silo at the city sewer plant in the Mickens-Harper neighborhood. Residents have objected to the city's plans to build a 2 million gallon tank by the neighborhood baseball field, as well as other upgrades to the plant, as they'd rather see the city move the plant elsewhere.

Onderdonk doesn't know how the conflict will play out, but said he believes that "there's nothing we can't work through."

Onderdonk will make $69,500 a year as the city's public works director. He and his wife live in Land O'Lakes with their two children.

New public works director tackles Dade City projects 12/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 8, 2011 8:33pm]
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