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Drainage projects tested by recent rains

Nothing like more than half a foot of rain in a few hours to stir up appreciation for something as mundane as a stormwater drain.

Watch the rain pour relentlessly hour after hour, as much of the Tampa Bay area did this weekend, and suddenly you start thinking about things like culvert pipes.

For some folks in the Shore Acres area of St. Petersburg, the relentless rains Saturday offered a chance to see what more than $380,000 in flood control measures can do.

"It's done well," said Brian Goldsmith, a Bayou Grand Boulevard resident who for most of the past year contended with road work by his home. "It has improved the situation when there's a rainstorm, coupled with an average or low tide."

Goldsmith doubts how effective the improvements would be handling storms that cause storm surges. While raising that stretch of the Bayou Grand by 6 inches helped his section of Shore Acres, much of the rest of the neighborhood faced roads more accessible to canoes than cars.

"I had to try several different approaches to get to my house," Goldsmith said.

St. Petersburg's engineering department received 95 flood-related complaints, but Public Works Administrator George Webb said he knew of only one house in southern St. Petersburg that experienced flooding.

On Beach Drive, though, a number of merchants found themselves drying out sopping carpet as water seeped in from behind their stores.

"Let's just say it was highly inconvenient," Jane Molloy of Johnston of Florida said of the roughly 2 inches of water that ran into the clothing store. "We hiked up everything real high so we wouldn't lose anything."

Webb said the the city on average received about 6.5 inches of rain Saturday.

In Pinellas Park, the driest areas received that much. Public Works Administrator Jerry Halstead said one rain gauge in Pinellas Park, at 80th Avenue N west of 49th Street, received 11 inches between 5:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

"When you get 11 inches of rainfall, I'd say overall, we did pretty well," said Halstead.

Some houses were flooded and some streets were impassable, particularly in the area south of 70th Avenue N and east of 49th Street. But Halstead pointed to several sections of the low-lying city that had recently undergone extensive drainage improvements and fared relatively well.

The Harmony Heights area between 52nd and 66th streets, for instance, received $1.83-million in stormwater improvements in 1993, and Halstead said the work made a real difference. Similarly, an 82nd Avenue N widening project includes $1.9-million in drainage improvements, and Halstead said problems there were limited to minor street flooding.