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Linebaugh Faces Construction Project Redo: Which Approach Do You Favor?

While a special March 10 meeting of Westchase CDD brought terrible news of the failure of the recently installed reclaimed water pipe on Linebaugh, the district is considering a fix that will interject more art into the community.

Supervisors of the Westchase Community Development District (CDD), however, are looking to residents to weigh in on which approach to fixing the problem they should support.

Hillsborough County Project Manager Matt Hunter, who oversaw the year-long construction project on Linebaugh Avenue between Radcliffe and Westchase Elementary, requested an emergency meeting in March with the district.

Hunter came bearing bad news, along with a sheriff’s deputy for the protection of county staff. “I know this is the last thing you want to hear but the reclaimed water pipe that was just installed has failed. And we need to replace it.”

The remark caused audible groaning among supervisors, along with several gasps and at least one unprintable vulgarity.

“This leaves us with two options,” Hunter said. “We dig up Linebaugh again for a year to replace the pipe, disrupting traffic more than even this past project did, or we opt for an above-ground pipeline down the Linebaugh median.”

Hunter stated that the pipe’s failure was caused by the fact that the contractor mistakenly installed it backwards. “As the result, much of the water in that pipe continues to flow in the wrong direction,” said Hunter. “When that happens, fluid dynamics take over, creating undue pressures at the pipe’s seams. The entire pipe separates at nearly all of its junctures, springing leaks that render its future use impossible.”

In recent weeks the pipe’s quick failure has caused repeated spot outages during periods of high use, with the most recent ones affecting portions of Harbor Links.

“What if we do nothing and just put up with the outages?” asked CDD Chair Jim Mills.

“If we were in Jersey or Nevada, that would be a realistic option,” said Hunter. “Unfortunately, as all of you know, Florida doesn’t sit on granite bedrock or sand. It sits on dissolvable limestone, which is called karst.”

“I actually didn’t know that,” said CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney. “I thought it was just dirt.”

Hunter continued, “The highly acidic content of reclaimed water quickly eats away at the limestone bedrock. In as little as two years, it can cause heavy surface structures such as walls and homes to start sinking.”

“So you’re saying all the West Park Village homes along Linebaugh Avenue could be sucked into a giant sinkhole?” asked Supervisor Matt Lewis.

“Not exactly,” said Hunter. “There would be no actual sucking sound. There would just be a lot of collapsing, which generally sounds more like popping, crashing and banging. Of course, if the natural gas lines break, there could be some booming explosions too. But technically no actual sucking.”

“It would certainly be a shame to see all of our brick walls collapse,” said Supervisor Brian Ross. “As the result, I’m inclined to support some kind of action here.”

Ross suggested the district purchase baking soda in bulk and have its landscaper spread it on the grass regularly to increase the pH of the soil and reduce the chance of the underlying limestone deteriorating.

“With all due respect, sir,” said Hunter. “We’re not talking about baking muffins here.”

“I have to agree with Mr. Hunter,” said Supervisor Barbara Hessler Griffith. “I’m not in favor of the baking soda approach. I happen to know from the volcano my son built for his third grade science fair project that if someone comes along and spills a bottle of vinegar after we put down all that baking soda, a good portion of Linebaugh Avenue could erupt.”

While CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart interjected she thought the possibility of an actual eruption quite low, Hessler Griffith added, “Is that really a risk we want to take?”

Ruling out the baking soda approach, Hunter stated the county was willing to take one of two options.

“We can’t bore a new pipe where the last one was put, so we need to move the new one over. That means completely losing the right hand lane of eastbound Linebaugh traffic,” said Hunter. “That will reduce eastbound traffic to one lane. To compensate, we’ll take one lane of westbound Linebaugh, likely the one closest to the median, and convert it into dual use, allowing traffic to travel eastbound on it during morning rush hour and westbound during afternoon rush hour.”

That, said Hunter, would ensure one dedicated lane of traffic in each direction.

When asked how long the new pipe would take to put in, Hunter said the project would last as long as the previous project – nearly a full year.

“There are some downsides to this approach, however,” Hunter said. “Because of the dual direction traffic, all left and right turns into The Fords would have to be banned during the course of the project.”

“Oh, dear Lord in heaven, save us,” said Chesney. “This is going to make the American Revolution look like a night at Bunco.”

Hunter tried to reassure supervisors that the county understood the inconvenience this was going to cause. “We’re cognizant of the fact that this is going to cause a significant reaction among your residents of The Fords. As the result, if you choose this option, we will make sure to have grief and anger counselors on hand for your residents throughout the year.”

This wasn’t enough for some supervisors present.

“I’d like to go a little further than that,” said Mills. “This board needs to be more proactive.”

Mills suggested the board at least temporarily rent or acquire some emotional support animals for use by the most distraught residents of The Fords. “At minimum, a puppy or two and a fluffy cat, preferably non-allergenic. And from what I understand, emotional support pigs and birds are also popular, but I would leave it to our staff to pick the appropriate breeds.”

Mills added that the animals could be kept at the Westchase Community Association (WCA) office building on Parley Drive in West Park Village. “Residents could perhaps visit them there or even check them out over particularly high-stress time periods,” he added. “It would just be one more way of saying, ‘We care.’”

Supervisors voted 4-1, with Supervisor Lewis opposed to explore the support animals idea, with Lewis stating he was more of a “emotional support craft beer kind of guy.”

To access The Fords, Hunter said, all residents will have to turn into The Greens, do a U-turn around the gate and then proceed into The Fords. To minimize the impact on Greens residents, Hunter suggested supervisors limit access to the Fords to only residents during the duration of the project. “Visitors or repairmen can park at the West Park pool and Davidsen Middle School and walk to their friends’ or customers’ homes in The Fords.”

Hunter added that all package deliveries could be made to The Greens guardhouse where they could be retrieved by residents driving through it during one of their many U-turns.

Griffith added, “It would be a nice touch if the Greens gate guard could distribute free water and perhaps granola bars to all Fords residents doing the U-turn. It might help take the edge off.”

“With all due respect to Mrs. Griffith, I’m going to disagree,” said Ross. “I personally find chocolate is more calming.”

Hunter than offered an alternative approach to the project for which supervisors expressed greater enthusiasm.

“Option two has no-traffic impacts and no closed lanes,” he said. “We would simply install an above-ground pipeline.”

Hunter said the most logical placement for the pipeline would be the landscaped median down the center of Linebaugh Avenue. “It’s a 24-inch pipe, which we would have to raise three feet off the ground.”

Hunter explained that the elevation of the reclaimed water pipe was necessary because of the reclaimed irrigation in the median. “Reclaimed water is very acidic. If we let it hit the outside of that pipe, it will deteriorate very quickly and start leaking. Raising it gets it out of the way of the sprayers.”

“But it puts it more obviously in view,” observed Lewis.

“That is why we’re willing to offer aesthetic mitigation.” Hunter explained that if the board picked the above ground reclaimed pipeline of Option 2, the county would provide acrylic paint for the pipe’s exterior. “First, it adds protection from reclaimed water. Second, it would allow the community to hire a painter to camouflage the pipe by painting it with grass, flowers, hedges and trees.”

Hunter added, “For many communities, these painted pipes become popular aesthetic additions.”

“I love this idea!” Supervisor Griffith said. “I am all about bringing art to the community. Rather than try to camouflage it with pretty greenery, we have an opportunity here.”

Griffith stated she would like to see the district commission several muralists to tell the story of the history of the Northwest along the length of the pipeline. “Either that or we could have a juried arts competition over the Fourth of July weekend, turning it into a fun festival.”

“That could get pretty expensive,” observed Chesney. “I would hate to have the district have to pass on the purchase of the golf course simply so we could artistically paint our new pipeline.”

“If funds are an issue, then we go to Westchase and Lowry Elementary, Davidsen and Alonso. We offer their kids the paint they need, divide the pipe into individual sections and tell them, ‘Have at it!’”

“Personally,” said Lewis. “I’d prefer to see the pipe become the official Westchase graffiti wall like they have up in Gainesville. It’s on 34th Street up there. It runs over 1,000 feet and all the University of Florida campus organizations and frats get a section that they get to paint every year.”  

“That might help reduce the tagging in the Baybridge Park pedestrian tunnel,” observed Field Supervisor Doug Mays.

Lewis continued, “We could give a section to each organization or business in the community, from the Westchase Seniors Group to World of Beer.”

“If I could offer a different approach,” suggested Ross. “While I love the enthusiasm that Supervisor Griffith and Lewis have for their ideas, I think we have a responsibility to maintain Westchase standards. The pipe has to be painted. But let’s just paint it one color, say green, and then have each resident who moves into the community coat one of their hands in a paint color and press it against the pipe. Over the course of years, we will have thousands of different hands that come together and make Westchase a community.”

Supervisors debated their preferred approaches to the pipe for 45 more minutes, with Lewis and Griffith ultimately backing Griffith’s mural idea and Ross and Mills backing Ross’ Hands Across Westchase approach.

When the board pressed Chesney to cast the vote for the tiebreaker if residents choose Option 2, Chesney said, “I actually like both ideas. So I’m going to propose a compromise. I think we should do the Hands Across Westchase thing down the north side of the pipe and Supervisor Griffith’s more artistic murals down the side of the pipe that faces south.”.

Closing discussion, supervisors decided to postpone their choice between Option 1 (tearing up the road) or Option 2 (using the painted pipeline) until their May meeting. “In the meantime,” said CDD Chair Mills. “We want to hear from residents. We would ask WOW to request that residents email us and let us know if they prefer Option 1 or Option 2 and why.”

Residents are asked to email supervisors, whose contact information appears on page 91, by Friday, April 6.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

Editor’s Note: In keeping with WOW’s annual April Fools’ tradition, this article (and only this article) is a complete fabrication. If you know of someone who got fooled (including yourself), be sure to let us know at editor@westchasewow.com. We’ll publish the best e-mails in May’s WOW.

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