They fought over wires. Long, tall, electrical wires. Wires that come with 14 poles bulging up to 51 inches in diameter and stretching as high as 115 feet. Poles that would block a $30,000 mural painted this year and line a street of one of Florida's few national historic landmark districts.
As part of the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway deck widening project, Tampa Electric plans to remove a 69-kilovolt transmission line from the south side of the expressway and build a new line on the north side, right along Adamo Drive.
Spokesmen for Tampa Electric say it's the most feasible option with the least impact.
Work is expected to begin this month and will be completed in September. The project has to be completed before work can begin on the expressway expansion, which will help clear truck traffic off the streets of Ybor.
But residents and local business owners say the project will blight the historic look of Ybor. They fear the poles will obscure part of a 12,600-square-foot mural to be completed this summer on the side of a steel fabrication plant. The artwork, thought to be the largest public mural in Florida, depicts the heritage and culture of Ybor.
Opponents also called the poles "visual pollution," while others said they pose a safety concern. Could the poles sustain a direct blow from a semitrailer truck?
Both sides battled it out Thursday night during a forum in Ybor City. Officials wanted to hear people's concerns and answer any questions.
About two dozen attended, some standing in groups and pairs, some gathering in circles to strategize, others confronting their opposition one-on-one.
"You guys are killing me," Leonard Rosende said as company officials pointed out the old and new power lines on a satellite image of the expressway. "Did you think about the other options or did you just decide it's easier to go across the street, to h--- with everyone else?"
"We're meeting all the laws and requirements," said Paul Allen, manager of transmission engineering at Tampa Electric. "I understand everyone's concern. That's what we're here for."
"This neighborhood is a historic district for Tampa," said Rosende, who owns property along Adamo Drive. "Once it's gone, it's gone. You can't rebuild that."
As citizens launched questions in rapid-fire format, the staff tried to keep up.
Company officials said the poles will be positioned to have the least impact on the mural, although one pole will likely stand in front of a portion of the artwork.
The transmission line has to be moved to accommodate construction, Tampa Electric spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said. And their research shows this is the best option.
"We're trying to have the least impact on the community," she said.
Finding a different location or going underground aren't viable options, Jacobs said. With barriers of cost and time in mind, the energy company maintains that placing the poles along Adamo Drive will have the least impact on the city.
But Ybor is a special place, said Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association. And it deserves special consideration.
"This isn't your typical neighborhood that you can come plow through and do whatever you want," he said. "We're going to stick to our guns and fight this tooth and nail, if we need to."
Caitlin Johnston can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 225-3111.