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Murky waters blamed on reclamation project

Jim Tomlinson was pointing out increased pollution in the canal near his home in Hernando Beach South when he got more evidence than he expected.

While he stood on the bank of the canal Thursday with a scientist from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud, a gush of cloudy water came from the direction of Shoal Line Boulevard, he said.

"It was like very forceful, and it was instant," Tomlinson said. "It made it real, real nasty. I mean super nasty."

Tomlinson lives on Amberjack Drive, next to the most affected canal, Amberjack Canal. His concerns, however, are not just personal, he said. He also has fielded complaints from his neighbors because of his position as a board member for the Hernando County Port Authority.

But according to Fritz Musselmann, director of land resources for Swiftmud, the problem probably looks a lot worse than it is.

The agency has tentatively concluded that the murkiness is mostly limerock and other earth stirred up by Oman Construction Co.'s reclamation of the nearby 6,000 acres Swiftmud bought from the company in February.

Musselmann said that the agency has taken water samples from both Amberjack Canal and the lakes on the Oman property and should be able to confirm the theory by early next week.

Musselmann said that even though few people are aware of it, the lakes on the Oman property are connected to the canal by underground passages. The problem has been most pronounced in the past week or two because Oman is working on a lake just across Shoal Line Boulevard from Hernando Beach South, he said.

First, it pumped a considerable amount of water out of the lake so crews could work on the shore of the lake. That caused the water level in the canal to drop.

Then workers began leveling the shore from a sheer cliff to a gradual slope. That resulted in a tremendous amount of soil being pushed into the lake.

"There appears to be an underground connection," Musselmann said. "Some of the turbidity appears to be making it through."

Oman's agreement with Swiftmud gives the company until the end of the year to finish the reclamation. But the work is going faster than expected and should be finished in about a month, Musselmann said.

The work on the lake that is causing most of the problem should be finished in about a week, said Keith Kolosa, an environmental scientist with Swiftmud. There are 14 lakes with a total surface area of about 300 acres on the property.

When that is done, "all that should clear up," Musselmann said.

Tomlinson said he will wait until the construction is done before he takes any further action.

"I hope they're right," he said.