At the July 21 City Council meeting, City Manager John Szerlag offered at least a temporary solution to residents along Southwest 17th Avenue seeking relief from excess noise, dirt and air quality issues from the Utilities Expansion Project staging area nearby their homes.
Resident Maureen Fatigato has since been working with UEP Director Paul Clinghan on almost a daily basis monitoring the site and reporting continuing issues. Fatigato and a neighbor both complained of headaches and respiratory conditions they say are caused by the dirt and diesel fumes reaching their homes for the past six months.
The contractor operating the staging area, Mitchell & Stark, was put on notice to provide a water cannon on site to keep the 30-foot high piles of material saturated to mitigate the flying dust that was accumulating across a canal on the residents' lanais and contaminating their pool water. A 6-foot high chain link fence with a screening material attached was installed along the canal to help block the noise and dust.
The contractor has been working with Clinghan to reduce the height of the dirt piles, and at Szerlag's direction a professional firm is being brought in to sample the air quality at the site.
"No air samples have been taken yet," said city Public Information Officer Connie Barron. "It will take a few weeks before we determine the cost and samples can be taken. They will take samples for several days and weeks while the staging area is operating and when it is shut down. It could be late August before we have any data to see if air quality is that bad."
Fatigato said she is happier now that the city is responding to their complaints, but there's still a long way to go.
"We are basically babysitting for the city," said Fatigato. "They were operating a piece of machinery last Friday that rattled our windows something awful. I called Paul, who called code enforcement and they came to shut it down until it could be repaired. Another time there was no water cannon on site and I called, code enforcement went there to get it corrected."
Fatigato told council that there were dead fish and turtles in the canal and the water was filthy. This week there are no more dead fish or turtles and the canal is a bit clearer, she said.
"The rain helps a lot," she said. "They are going to be operating the staging area for another seven to nine months while (UEP) work continues in other areas of the project."
Fatigato said she and her husband purchased their home in December 2010, renovated it and added a dock and boat lift because they have gulf access through the canal system. It was a "piece of paradise" until last January when the construction project sprung into full force.
Before January, they enjoyed sipping coffee and wine in their dock and lanai, but that no longer is possible with the noise and dirt and respiratory issues.
Mitchell & Stark operates the staging area 12 hours a day, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dump trucks bring at least 75 loads a day to the site for sifting and to be used as a base material under the new road paving.