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Man-made marsh eases wetland loss

In 1988, the northern shore of Lake Bluegill on Bearss and Floridaavenues was high and dry.

Occasionally, a gopher tortoise or raccoon might appear, said Richard Chatterton, a homeowner on Lake Bluegill.

Now, the 1.8-acre parcel is a marshy man-made wetland surrounded by laurel oaks and wax myrtle trees. The low-lying swamp now sports whitewater lilies, floating hearts, pickerelweed and arrowheads.

"It's even still good fishing out there," said Chatterton's wife, Gloria.

The $60,000 man-made wetland is part of the county's effort to replace some of the wetlands lost during the recent construction of Bearss Avenue. The street project, to widen Bearss from two to four lanes, was finished last month.

State law requires governments and private companies to at least replace sensitive wetlands destroyed by construction. Under some circumstances, the amount of new wetlands must exceed the amount destroyed.

The county paid more than $530,000 for the small parcel that stretches from the eastern edge of Country Lakes subdivision across the north end of the lake to a bank on Florida Avenue.

Several commissioners said the county should avoid paying that kind of cash for land.

Bob Gordon, a county projects manager, said that because of the high price, county commissioners are trying to use land owned by the county when replacing wetlands.

Since the two-year Bearss widening project began, county officials have had their fingers crossed, hoping plants live and massive soil erosion doesn't occur.

Over the next three years, the new swamp will be monitored by county officials, said Bob Gordon, a county projects manager.

For one, 85 percent of the plants must survive in the first year.

If more than 15 percent die, everyone starts over.

The recent freeze in December may have hurt the planting.

"We're waiting until spring to see what comes back and it will be

summertime before the damage is assessed," Patricia Frantz, of the

Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Agency.

Hardaway Co., which the county hired to do the road work in the area, dug up several thousand yards of dirt and mud just below the water level, said J. C. Miseroy, a regional manager for Hardaway. The dirt was then used as part of the construction project, Miseroy explained.