Sunday, May 20, 2018
News Roundup

Residents along Safety Harbor's Bishop Creek are losing battle against erosion

SAFETY HARBOR — Joey usually cowers during thunderstorms. So when Bob Keller, 78, heard the golden retriever, along with his other dog, Angel, barking in the back yard on June 24 as Tropical Storm Debby raged, he went to take a look.

"That's when he saw everything had fallen in," said his wife, Joan Keller, 76.

The Kellers live at 3080 Hillside Lane, and their back yard used to border Bishop Creek.

Now, about one-third of it is Bishop Creek.

The collapse of the Kellers' yard, even though the creek bank was fortified by a gabion wall — compact baskets of rocks — is the latest incident in a long history of erosion that has for years maddened those who live along the creek and frustrated efforts by Safety Harbor to protect the homes.

On Monday, residents will ask the City Commission for help.

Some residents say the city's efforts up to this point have been nothing more than quick, ultimately ineffective fixes.

"They've piecemealed this creek for years. They really have," said Leslie Grace, 57, who lives at 61 Harbor Woods Circle. High water from the creek recently caused a tree in Grace's back yard to fall in.

Bishop Creek winds in a generally east-west direction through neighborhoods north of Enterprise Road, and empties into the bay north of Philippe Park.

The city has stacked sandbags, reinforced the creek with gabions, and in some places, lined the creek banks with concrete. But problems persist.

"The first time it was sandbags, the second time it was, like, a cement brick wall, the third time it was gabions," said Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, who lives just four houses down from the Kellers, at 3088 Hillside Lane. "I'm not an engineer. I don't know what the next step up is."

Neither does City Engineer Bill Baker, though his department is trying to come up with ideas.

"There's not anything out there that doesn't have something already done to it," he said. "It might be in need of some repair or it might be in need of tuning up, but that will all be discussed at the (Safety Harbor City Commission) meeting Monday night."

City Manager Matt Spoor said fixes by the city have been so varied because of legal and financial constraints. "The city only does what we are permitted to do by the state agencies, the regulatory agencies, at the time we have the money to do it."

Spoor added that the city is not legally bound to take action since the land along the creek is all private property.

Spoor said he will advise the City Commission to approve a $150,000 plan to repair some of the hardest-hit properties along the creek, including the Kellers' house, which is located at a spot where the creek takes a 90-degree turn. During heavy rain, water rushing through the creek bed slams directly into their property.

The edge of the property across from the Kellers' house will likely be rounded out as part of the solution, Spoor said.

But any lasting solution is hard to imagine for residents familiar with the creek's destructive power.

"You're not strong enough physically to cross that creek in a big rainstorm. Nobody is," Brickfield said, adding that he believes the creek would undermine any barrier erected on its banks.

Mark Grossman, 58, the Kellers' next-door neighbor, said the Bishop Creek erosion puts him and his neighbors in a difficult position. "We're losing our property. The city says, 'If you don't like it, sell your house.' Well, who's buying this?"

Meanwhile, the city is similarly constrained, Spoor said.

"We are constantly challenged with having to appease these state regulatory agencies and the residents," he said. "In a way, we're in a no-win situation because I can't predict the next storm or how much water's going to pour into that stream."

Andy Thomason can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters, or mail letters to 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756.

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