Linda Tschudi came before the Port St. Joe City Commission last week with a straightforward request.
Ensure that commissioners focus on the entire city, not just the south, not just the north.
Tschudi was there to express frustration with two projects, or lack of progress on such projects.
One is for streetlights and sidewalks on Dr. David Langston Drive, a cause dear to Tschudi’s heart as the late Langston was her brother.
As was explained to Tschudi, the city and the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency are applying for grants – one it was said during last week’s meeting was near approval – to put in sidelights.
The Florida Department of Transportation has sidewalks on Langston Drive – the lone connector of the north and south neighborhoods once divided by railroad tracks – among projects on its district five-year plan, though Clay Smallwood with Preble Rish Engineers said it would be at least two years before funding was available.
The other target of Tschudi’s dismay was the ongoing delay on installation of water and sewer pipes in the neighborhood of North Port St. Joe.
“My water is chocolate brown,” she said. “What about our tax money? What do we get for our tax money? We can only take so much.”
City commissioners carved out the area of North Port St. Joe to the first phase of water pipe replacement – the city is targeting some 20 miles of aged pipes in stages – because the project in that area likely qualified for a Community Development Block Grant due to a variety of factors.
That part of the first phase was funded by CDBG – the city has a loan/grant package from the State Revolving Fund for the majority of the work – and the city has applied in the next CDBG cycle to complete the replacement of pipes in North Port St. Joe.
In addition, due to the duplication of efforts involved, the pipe replacement project was linked to another grant-funded project – this by the USDA – to replace sidewalks along Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd.
And a series of delays – governmental red tape with two agencies involved, the shutdown of the federal government, contracting bids that came in originally over grant amounts – have led to the project being moved back again and again.
Commissioner Bo Patterson had repeatedly reflected the sentiments of constituents by expressing frustration with the lack of progress, even a start date for construction, for the water line replacement.
What was originally supposed to be accomplished in the summer was pushed back to November and now will likely not begin before the first of the year.
The delays have come while much of the city residential proper on the south side has had pipes replaced as commissioners and staff express that the water and solving the issues are priority one.
“Our streets are caving in and our water is bad,” Tschudi said. “Let’s be fair and equal to everybody. Let’s beautify the whole city.
“We are always going to be separate because of this north and south thinking.”
Mayor Mel Magidson said commissioners had hoped that pipe replacement might alleviate much of the issues with discolored water, which studies indicate is a combination of iron and manganese in the distribution system.
“We don’t have our hands around this problem,” Magidson said.
Staff from the city and contractor CDM Smith, which designed the city’s new surface water plant, are waiting on the final round of preliminary testing by Virginia Tech University to determine if there is a short-term solution to discoloration issues.
Once that phase of testing is complete, commissioners expect to hold a workshop with David Kozan of CDM Smith to discuss potential tweaks to the treatment of water in the system.
Virginia Tech is in the midst of a broader pilot study of the distribution system.
On another front Larry McClamma, supervisor at the water plant, said that after a thorough review of various guides to the systems that operate the plant, staff found it was possibly injecting a certain chemical in the wrong place in the process, impacting manganese levels.
He said staff would change injection sites this week with hopes of seeing some impact on water color.
“It may not be significant but every little bit helps,” said city manager Jim Anderson.