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Dig project can resume, state says

A state inspector determined on Wednesday that digging equipment used in a city drainage project north of Bay Boulevard was too large for the densely wooded area, but permits were not needed for the work. Workers will be able to continue the project with the use of smaller digging equipment, said Gloria Carr, a spokeswoman for the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud. Officials from Swiftmud and the state Department of Environmental Regulation halted the drainage project Tuesday after a complaint from former City Council member Joe Mastrocolo that the city was improperly infringing on wetlands.

Carr said the project, which involves cleaning out drainage ditches that run through the property, was not infringing on wetlands. Swiftmud has asked the city to draw up a memo on the project and submit it to the state.

The project will not resume for about two weeks while the city prepares the memo, arranges for smaller digging equipment for the project and filters out sediment stirred up during the digging, said Terry Cobb, head of the city's streets department.

"I certainly will comply with anything they want," Cobb said. The work will continue when "everything calms down," he said.

Cobb said he has learned that he needs to contact the state before he begins such projects. The drainage project began Monday after clogged and damaged drainage pipes were found just off Richey Drive after a sewer line was installed, Cobb said. Drainage has been a problem in the area in the past.

The pipes were removed, causing what Cobb said was an emergency situation, which allowed him to spend up to $3,000 immediately, he said. Cobb contacted Mayor Keith Kollenbaum, and the project began Monday. About $1,400 has been spent on the project so far, Cobb said.

Mastrocolo heard tractors digging in the 10-acre property behind the Post House East apartments Tuesday morning and called state officials, who wanted the project stopped until they could review it. Cobb's plan was to use the tractor to clean out the drainage ditches on the property, which is owned by Floricon USA.

Permits are not needed for standard maintenance on drainage ditches in such areas, as long as the ditches are not widened or deepened, Carr said. Too much dirt was removed from one of the ditches and lighter equipment should be used, she said. Cobb said the city would be placing bales of hay in the ditch to filter out extra dirt stirred up in the digging.