June 24, 2008

Crews Began Installation of Tallevast Water Lines

By Donna Wright, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.

Jun. 24--TALLEVAST -- County crews began digging trenches along Tallevast Road at 16th Street Monday morning to install permanent water lines to residents, who have expressed concerns for their safety.

But that work could stop today after commissioners review a written report on the project, requested by Commissioner Ron Getman. He met Monday afternoon with leaders of FOCUS, an advocacy group for residents.

"I want to make sure the county is responding in the most advantageous way to protect the community," said Getman, who expressed concerns about preliminary soil and air tests performed for the county by Professional Services Industries of Tampa.

Results from those tests indicated the presence of benzene, acetone and toluene in varying levels. Moreover, field notes indicate problems with compromised samples, condensation in the piping and valves that did not fit correctly.

The county installed temporary water lines in 2004 to Tallevast homes that had relied on private wells for drinking water after tests confirmed toxic contamination from an old beryllium plant.

The temporary lines were meant to be used for only six months to a year. As tests revealed the extent of the toxic waste covers more than 200 acres, Tallevast residents repeatedly asked that the installation of the permanent lines be postponed. They feared excavation would disturb toxic vapors, further exposing them to cancer-causing chemicals.

"All we were asking for was just one day to get the samples redone," said Wanda Washington, vice president of FOCUS. "We need to feel comfortable with the results. We live here."

"We are comfortable with the results," said Dan Schlandt, assistant county administrator, who sat in on the meeting between Getman and FOCUS. "Our staff feel they have a reasonable picture of what is there for us to go forward. . . . We have been designing this project in a way that we thought would protect the community."

Washington agreed the county has tried to work with the community, but she said it failed the most important step.

"When you got this blatantly inadequate report, you should have said 'No, this step has to be repeated.' All we were asking was to go back and re-sample the same spots. I want the water lines in. I live on 16th Street, but I don't want to risk more exposure."

Today, Tallevast residents may get their wish, if commissioners agree.

Getman wanted the Tallevast water project added to the commission meeting agenda, but it was already too full of business that must be completed before summer recess. Schlandt promised commissioners would get the written report as soon as possible.

A decision on whether to move forward with the water line project will likely be made by County Administrator Ed Hunzeker after commissioners review that report, Schlandt said.

Postponing the work to get accurate data is critical to the community's wellbeing, said Dr. Billy Ward, Tallevast resident and dentist. "Many of us are already exposed; a second exposure will have a greater impact. You don't know what is down there."

The water project ran into more problems Monday afternoon when utility crews severed a Verizon phone line, cutting service to an unknown number of Tallevast residents. Service was expected to be restored by early evening.

Donna Wright, health and social services reporter, can be reached at 745-7049.


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