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Swiftmud halts work on railroad bridge over creek

Swiftmud has stopped CSX Corp. from repairing a railroad trestle bridge over Bishop Creek, saying the company was doing the work without a required permit.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District acted after a resident reported that silt apparently dislodged by railroad workers was muddying the creek waters.

A spokesman for the railroad said Friday that it hoped to have the matter resolved by early this week.

"We're definitely going to investigate that and make certain we have the right permit," said Gary Sease, spokesman for CSX, from the company's Jacksonville office. "If we don't, we'll take whatever corrective action is necessary."

Sease said the silt was dislodged by concrete pilings the company was driving into the creek bed last week. He said CSX would switch to steel pilings instead, which tend to displace less silt.

At the work site late last week, splintered piles of old, wooden beams sat stacked along the tracks while Bishop Creek flowed over a hose snaked from the grassy banks to the water.

A backhoe, a water pump and other heavy machinery sat quiet nearby.

But Thursday morning, crews were busy at the site, adjacent to the North City Park inside the North Bay Hills subdivision, working on replacing the 60-foot bridge's wooden supports.

The railroad intends to replace the wooden trestle with a concrete structure, Sease said.

Resident John Paasch, who lives along the creek, called Safety Harbor city officials Monday to complain that he saw silt flowing downstream and that he suspected that crews from CSX were responsible.

"It was running clear at about four in the afternoon, then about 20 minutes later it was like gray/black soup running down the creek, and there was an oil slick on the water," Paasch said. "The second day it looked like someone had dumped a semi truck full of milk in the creek."

Paasch said his initial complaints went unanswered, which frustrated him. So Paasch called the Fire Department, which investigated the activity at the creek as a fuel spill.

Paasch eventually called Public Works Director Kurt Peters, who contacted Swiftmud.

"We pretty much acted as a conduit," said Wayne Logan, city manager.

A Swiftmud investigator visited the site Thursday and determined that CSX needed permits and did not have them.

"There were some general concerns about . . . making sure there are no negative effects from the work," said Michael Molligan, a spokesman for Swiftmud. "The permit will require them to provide us with reasonable assurances that there will be no negative impact from the work there."

Molligan said he did not know how long it would take to process CSX's request for a permit but said the railroad company could not resume work until it obtained one.

"The city needs to look after the natural environment within their boundaries _ it's their job," Paasch said. "And if it's not taken care of properly, they need to do what it takes to restore it to its natural state."

_ Leon M. Tucker can be reached at 445-4167 or tuckersptimes.com.

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