Be Loud!

What Beats?

BY DIANA HAMILTON SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY MAR 21, 2015

I first encountered Susan Chapman in the flesh circa 2005. Perched on the edge of the Ken Thompson Memorial Fountain outside Commission chambers downtown at City Hall, her face channeling grumpy cat, Susan was not in a pleased-to-meet-you mood. No surprise, I guess, given her mission—first, a demand that someone be held accountable for the not one but two sewage spills into the Bay caused by a malfunctioning lift station located in her Hudson Bayou neighborhood, and secondly that the offending lift station be removed, whatever it took, forthwith, from her neighborhood.

Until some time very recently in January 2015, when it was taken down, there was a 4-by-8-foot sign posted in 2008 by the City at the corner of Osprey Avenue and Mound Street describing the whatever it took as the “the Luke Wood Park Utility Project,” cost $9,592,000.00.  By 2012, though the sign never changed, costs had risen to over $12 million. Right around that time, another spill occurred, not, by the way, the fault of the old lift station, but caused by errors made while drilling under Hudson Bayou—a task, as it turns out, that was 99 percent impossible from the get-go.

And now here we are five City Managers later (if you count interim and I do), two engineering firms sent packing, a new firm contracted with costs approaching $30 million dollars including bookoo dollars paid in PR to quell the manifest discontent of the LWPUP’s neighbors, plus a lift station now to be housed above ground in a public park and a completion date proposed closer to 2018.

And, surely, I cannot be the only person asking this one simple question.

How is that tired, old lift station at the end of Pomelo Avenue continues 11—maybe even 14—years later to just keep chugging along? Was there a real emergency emergency or did someone simply object to the smell? And if, as the Environmental Protection Agency suggests, it absolutely needed replacing, could we have made a smarter, less expensive, less oppressive choice of location? Of course we could.

We live in a City where accountability for choices made, then unmade and/or remade is diluted across a panel of five commissioners, i.e. policy makers elected in most cases by fewer than 20 percent of voters. Ideally public policy ought be built on fact and established expertise founded in the interest of the greater good, but certainly not on the resolute emotion of the moment or of the loud. Turn it any which way you want, the LWPUP is a public policy fiasco. I’m not suggesting the LWPUP fiasco be laid at the feet of the one person whose fierce forced urgency pushed such an important project along in the wrong direction, but in 2005, Susan Chapman was the loud, and listening to her has cost us plenty.

Susan Chapman’s name is not on the May City election run-off ballot, but those of her allies, Commission appointees Eileen Normille and Stan Zimmerman, are, and it was they who chose as their first act as policy makers to pay, spending unlimited taxpayer dollars—estimated to date at upwards of $150.000—in legal fees to defend Susan ad infinitum against a Sunshine complaint that could have been settled for $500.  It’s your vote. It’s time. Be loud.

SRQ Daily Columnist Diana Hamilton, after living 35 years in Sarasota, labels herself a pragmatic optimist with radical humorist tendencies and a new found resistance to ice cream.

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