Sunday, April 22, 2018
Public safety

Fort De Soto closure, Tierra Verde boil-water order to last through Monday

A closed sign was posted at Fort De Soto Park for a second day Sunday, but that didn't stop some people from trying to sneak in anyway.

When some cars wouldn't stop for the ranger at the entrance, he gave chase, yelling, "Whoa! Whoa! Park is closed!"

Park workers turned back 11 cars in just four minutes not long before sunset. Three drivers tried to slip past.

It had been like that since Saturday, after a water line break at a nearby retaining pond shuttered most of Fort De Soto — Pinellas County's most popular park — as nearly cloudless skies and warm air beckoned. It will remain closed through at least today.

The water line break caused a sharp drop in pressure, allowing harmful bacteria to creep into the system. Officials extended a mandatory boil-water notice through today in the southern part of nearby Tierra Verde and turned off water fountains, campground showers and toilets at a park visited by 2.7 million people annually.

The cars came anyway, hauling kayaks and fishing poles already rigged with lines and floaters waiting to bob on the sea. Some took the news from the park rangers with a slump of the shoulders and a U-turn.

"Oh, no. I'm missing my sunset," said Bobby Lee of St. Pete Beach.

Others lashed out at the rangers as if it they'd drummed up the scheme to ruin their weekend plans.

"We had a couple people use expletives on my staff," said chief ranger Mike Agliano

It was a balmy 72 degrees, with a 6 mph breeze that swept the briny air across the bay. A more perfect day for strolling, biking or camping could not be imagined.

The campground remained open, and those who'd already booked spots enjoyed the peace and sunset with water bottles in hand.

On Sunday morning, Lucie Roy and Michel Banville, both 60 and visiting from Quebec, had already sampled the water, which officials said could cause diarrhea, cramps or nausea. They hadn't seen the signs posted and were now wondering about the consequences.

"That was this morning. Maybe tomorrow …, " Banville smiled, implying he could wake up with cramps or worse today.

The two are in the middle of a three-month stay in the United States. Their van has a bed — and a four-gallon water tank full of the sullied water. They plan to stay in the park for another two weeks — unless their stomachs turn on them.

A few camping spots over, Albert Gallardo was putting a diaper on his child. As the sun set, he said, "This is so beautiful."

Gallardo of Fort Lauderdale grilled steaks with his girlfriend, Nicole Tongson, who noted that because of the pipe break, there were far fewer people than normal at the park.

A few spots down were Rich and Kathy Blewett, who had driven two days straight from Newtown, Conn.

Earlier, park workers had filled up toilets with water for the visitors and passed out "as much bottled water as you felt inclined to take," Rich Blewett said, waving a nearly empty bottle.

The rangers did a good job of keeping the park running smoothly, he said.

The sun set over the sea, and with plans to restock their water supply with a quick drive to the grocery store, Rich turned his attention to securing his camp site from the next worry — the park's notorious raccoons.

Staff writer Mike Brassfield contributed to this report.

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