DADE CITY — A divided City Commission voted Tuesday evening to soften the impact of the city's sewer plant on the Mickens-Harper neighborhood.
A proposed 2 million gallon reclaimed water tank will be pushed beyond the centerfield fence of the neighborhood park, instead of taking over the baseball field like engineers originally planned.
Commissioners also agreed to spend about $200,000 on odor control devices at the plant, which handles all of the city's sewage, some 600,000 gallons a day. They offered to install lighting at the Mickens baseball field. And they agreed to pursue a long-term plan of relocating the plant once the population grows enough to justify it.
But neighbors aren't satisfied. They want a hard timeline for shutting down the sewer plant in the middle of their neighborhood and building a new one elsewhere.
"I've always stayed away from pulling the race card and I won't do it now," said resident Tavaris Elliott, who has become a spokesman for the predominantly African-American neighborhood. "This is power against poor people. We are victims here. We can't help but see it like that. The info that they're giving out? We're going to veto it. Leave our neighborhood. That's what we want you to do. We don't trust you."
"I met with my neighbors and they disapprove all of it," he continued. "Nothing tells us like experience. Guess what? You've given us promises and you didn't do anything for us except continue to foul our air.
Neighborhood leaders say the wastewater treatment plant, built in the 1950s when black residents had little say in its location, represents a lingering insult to the community. Over the years, residents stopped hanging their clothes out to dry and stopped eating fish from the local pond, which they worried was becoming contaminated.
The resentments resurfaced in recent weeks, when neighbors saw engineers and contractors with clipboards at the Mickens field. They discovered the city planned to put a 2 million gallon reclaimed water tank on the field. The plans had been in the works for years, but the neighborhood was never notified.
"I haven't seen you dudes put up a single permit sign over the past 10 years," Elliott said. "If we knew about these plans when they were hatched, we wouldn't jump up like this."
Faced with a packed house of angry residents two weeks ago, commissioners put the project on hold to research alternatives. Tom Vill, a vice president with city contractor Baskerville-Donovan Inc., recommended moving the tank beyond the centerfield fence, which preserves the baseball field without jeopardizing a grant. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has approved a grant worth up to $1.9 million toward the tank, but only if it's located at the treatment plant.
"We're looking at public funds here," Mayor Scott Black said Tuesday evening. "Delay is not an option. Staff and engineers have worked hard to save the field" by moving the tank beyond centerfield.
The tank would provide reclaimed water to the Little Everglades Ranch and the Dade City Business Center, preserving fresh water sources. It's just one piece of the planned rehabilitation and expansion of the Dade City wastewater treatment plant.
Officials explored the option of building a new sewer plant elsewhere, but the cost would be $11.3 million, twice the price tag of fixing up the existing plant. As Dade City grows, however, the expanded customer base could eventually support a new plant elsewhere, officials said.
Commissioners Camille Hernandez and Eunice Penix cast the dissenting votes against the plan Tuesday evening, calling for a more detailed timeline to move the plant. Hernandez's husband, David, scolded the majority.
"Shame on you," David Hernandez said, looking to City Manager Billy Poe. "Mr. Poe is stealing the people's money. He doesn't earn it. He provides no feedback to the community and he's avoided these people for a hearing on these injustices for five years. This will not be swept under the rug. You had an opportunity to fix an error from 1950 and now you've chosen to amplify that injustice."
Penix said without a more detailed commitment to move the plant, the Mickens-Harper residents won't trust the city.
"These people don't trust us," Penix said. "We've made promises in the past and timeframes that were never developed."