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Lake Tarpon planting project destroyed

A demonstration planting project in Lake Tarpon has caught the attention of residents tired of staring at the cattails that are taking over the lake. Lake Tarpon resident Bob Weindel said residents have called him after reading about the aquatic plant display to find out how they can get similar plants in front of their homes.

But these days, Weindel doesn't know what to tell callers.

The problem is that the demonstration plants were destroyed in the harsh winds and rain of Tropical Storm Marco.

"There's absolutely no evidence of a restoration there," Weindel told the Lake Tarpon Management Committee on Thursday. "All the water vegetation is gone."

The demonstration area near John Chesnut Jr. Park was planned to demonstrate the benefits and aesthetic value of aquatic plants. Scientists also expected to find out whether a more diverse plant population can survive in the lake under the relatively stable water levels that have existed since floodgates were built on the Outfall Canal in 1971.

Stabilized water levels prevent flooding of nearby homes. But biologists say the lack of fluctuation encourages single plants species, such as cattails, to crowd out the variety of aquatic plants that grow under natural conditions.

The healthiest environment is one marked by a variety in plant and animal life.

The demonstration area along the boardwalk in Chesnut Park has been "aquascaped" with plants including loblolly bay, sweet bay magnolia, arrowhead, fragrant waterlily, wax myrtles, cordgrass and American lotus.

The area destroyed by the tropical storm will be replanted, said Marty Kelly, an environmental specialist with the Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud). But it is unclear whether taxpayers or the contractor, Dames and Moore of Tampa, will pay.

The contractor is required to assure that 80 percent of all new plants survive for at least three years. But Kelly said he is not sure whether that provision applies to plants destroyed by "an act of God."