Safety Harbor isn't letting the bad economy prevent it from proceeding with a project to improve water quality in Old Tampa Bay and also make driving scenic S Bayshore Boulevard a safer and easier trip for motorists. Protecting the environment should be a priority, even in tough times.
When it rains in Safety Harbor, stormwater flows over land and streets and through the city's storm sewers, picking up oil residue, fertilizer, pesticides, dirt, animal droppings and trash. Then it flows straight into Old Tampa Bay. The same thing is happening all around the bay, so it is little wonder that poor water quality and sedimentation have been a problem in relatively shallow Old Tampa Bay for years.
Now the city is planning a $3 million project to capture some of that stormwater before it runs into the bay. Three million dollars is a big bite for a small city, but Safety Harbor is getting significant financial help from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, both of which have an interest in reducing the flow of dirty stormwater into area water bodies. The FDEP will give the city $1.3 million toward the project's costs. The water management district will kick in more than $847,000, with the city matching the district's share and assuming any cost overruns.
To stop water from running into the bay, contractors will build a low, 3,500-foot-long berm on the east side of S Bayshore Boulevard from the Alligator Creek bridge to the city marina. Stormwater will pond against the berm at a depth of 1 inch to 18 inches. As the water percolates into the ground, grass and other plants in the man-made swale will draw nitrogen and phosphorous out of the water, preventing those nutrients and various pollutants from fouling the bay waters.
Trash will be pulled out of the stormwater before it reaches the swale by traps that will be installed in the pipes carrying rainwater under Bayshore. Engineers estimate the project will remove 3.6 tons of pollutants from stormwater each year.
City engineer Bill Baker said the project also will address two other major problems along S Bayshore: ponding of rainwater on the roadway, which has long annoyed Safety Harbor residents, and soft dirt shoulders that become a muddy, rutted mess in wet weather. The road shoulders will be paved and the road resurfaced as part of the project.
And there will be yet another benefit to residents who enjoy walking or jogging on the sidewalk that parallels S Bayshore. The old sidewalk will be removed, and a new, wider one will be built on top of the 10-foot-wide berm.
Design of the project is under way, with construction to begin in August and be completed in September 2011.
The S Bayshore project is the second of four stormwater-related projects planned through a financial partnership between the city and state agencies. Those projects will total about $9 million.
Like all cities in Pinellas County, Safety Harbor has declining tax revenues, but it has made cleaning up the environment a priority. Its work will benefit all of the communities that border Tampa Bay and is good news to all who care about the health of the bay.