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Pump station might violate zoning

A sewage pump station that some Brandon residents have labeled a health hazard also appears to be a zoning violation. The pump station, widely considered an eyesore in this attractive suburban neighborhood, was misclassified two years ago as a "neighborhood pump station," said Robert "Terry" Gilbert, manager of development services for Hillsborough County.

After visiting the station this past weekend, Gilbert said he has concluded that it is large enough to qualify as a "master pump station."

That means the county should have held a public hearing, notifying the immediate neighbors by certified letter, before allowing the station to be built late last year. No such hearing was ever held.

"It appears to have been an oversight," said county attorney Emeline Acton.

Although the county government technically is not bound by its own zoning code, Acton said it generally tries to follow the code.

Gilbert said the error apparently happened in 1989, when the county was in-between zoning administrators.

The question now is, what to do about it?

Gilbert said he will recommend that the planning and zoning and public utilities departments work out a solution, along with the county attorney's office.

Shutting down the station would leave the neighborhood without wastewater service, he said. A better idea is to build a higher wall around the station and to order the county utilities department to do a better job ridding the area of odors from the station.

But Dale Davis, who lives nearby in Shadow Bay subdivision, said she does not think residents should have to endure the station any longer.

"If you or I were to build a gas station that was not zoned properly, we would have to tear up our pipes and put it somewhere else," she said. "We want them to move it."

Residents of Shadow Bay and nearby Hillside have complained for years of noxious odors coming from the station and the surrounding sewer lines.

Last week, about 35 residents complained to Public Utilities Director Michael McWeeny and County Commissioner Joe Chillura about hydrogen sulfide fumes. Some said the fumes from the pump station and from overloaded sewer lines have caused widespread coughs and bronchitis among their children.

Dr. Michael Alberts, a University of South Florida (USF) pulmonary specialist, said he doubts the fumes pose any long-term health hazard. But they could aggravate coughing among people who already are prone to cough, such as smokers, asthma patients and allergy sufferers, he said.

"It probably is a significant nuisance that is affecting the quality of their lives," Alberts said, adding that he was not directly familiar with the station. "It would not cause cancer or emphysema, but it would cause symptoms that are extremely distasteful."