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Strain over drains has happy refrain

(ran East, South, West, Seminole editions)

After years of squabbling over the best way to handle the town's drainage problems, officials began what should be a final fix Monday. This first phase of the two-step process will cost about $597,110 and will take an estimated six to eight months to complete. This phase involves digging up and replacing 3,274 feet of broken pipes. Workers started on a pipe on the ballfield between 46th Avenue N and 47th Avenue N by the Community Hall.

"There are so many things that will have to be replaced," Kenneth City Council member Phil Redisch said. "There's a lot of things involved - more than just digging up a pipe."

The second phase could involve lining 1,247 feet of damaged pipes that are in locations that make them hard to exhume. It is unclear how much the second phase will cost.

"We are so excited that after either nine or 10 years, we are going ahead with our storm drains that have not been repaired for the last 50 years," Redisch said.

The repair work is a "major positive" for the town, he said. "It was really an uphill battle just to hire an engineer."

The drains have been a contentious issue for the city at least as far back as 1997, when the town's capital improvements committee urged leaders to spend $38,000 to put cameras into the system to find the cause of storm flooding.

The cameras showed drains that needed to be cleared out as well as broken drains. The company began clearing the clogged drains and lining others.

But in August 1998, then-Mayor Jack Knox ordered the project stopped while an engineer evaluated the contractor's performance. Later that month, the council allowed the work to continue.

In 2000, Knox and then-council member Chuck Webber sparred over the issue when Webber wanted the council to spend more than $250,000 to repair about 600 feet of stormwater drainage pipes along Lake Charles Drive between 57th and 58th streets N. Webber also tangled with two other council members over the work after they checked with other engineers about the proposed work to make sure it would be done correctly.

Some of the battles became snarling, snapping matches as council members traded insults during the debates that seemed to span several council meetings.

In 2004, the council ordered a list of the worst problems so work could begin in early 2005.

Now it appears at least some of the battles have been resolved so the most serious problems can be fixed.