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Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Lakeside residents say government shouldn’t play it both ways

BRANDON — People living around Lake Valrico once had an amicable relationship with officials who would come out to test the water quality and treat the lake for aquatic weeds and mosquitoes.

Fast-forward to 2008, when neighbors say all that ended. “They (Hillsborough County officials) have spent exactly zero on our lake since then,” said Donald Cornett, who has lived near the lake his entire life. “What made our lake the retention pond for all of Valrico? When is this going to stop?” He estimates area homeowners have spent about $50,000 on lake maintenance.

The county has installed 12 stormwater pipes from neighborhoods encompassing about 1,600 acres into the 125-acre lake, which is north of State Road 60, between Seffner-Valrico and Valrico roads.

Recently, Beth Bravis, whose house backs up to Lake Valrico, learned the county plans to install another pipe — through her yard — that will send stormwater into the lake from nearby Front Street. It is the last of $1.7 million in stormwater improvement projects the county has undertaken in the area during the past dozen or so years to combat street flooding.

“Our biggest beef is they treat it like a retention pond, yet when we reach out, they won’t give any assistance with spraying or anything,” Bravis said. “Years ago they helped with hydrilla control.”

The county’s answer: It’s a private lake for which the government is not responsible for aesthetic maintenance. And, as far as water quality, the lake is in better shape than many, Hillsborough environmental officials say.

Residents find that laughable, saying Lake Valrico is in good shape only because of the money they have invested.

“We do this (dump stormwater runoff) all over the county in hundreds of water bodies,” said county Engineer Mike Williams. Wherever water flowed before development, the county sends runoff today, he said. It is considered a natural drainage area.

That’s not good enough for area residents who say they shouldn’t have to pay to clean up the lake when it gets inundated with road and yard runoff from outside of the neighborhood.

A few weeks ago, Tim Norstrem returned home from vacation to find a sign in his yard at the edge of the lake. It warned: “high bacteria levels, health risk present, no swimming, wading or fishing.” County officials said a sewer overflow, caused by a grease blockage on Jan. 25 sent a small amount of raw sewage into the lake. The only notice Norstrem got was the sign, he said.

“Everyone else’s runoff is going into our lake, but when we ask the county for help, we get nothing.” He points to glass bottles, prescription pill bottles and other roadway litter that has found its way into Lake Valrico through one of the stormwater pipes.

“We never did aquatic weed control (in Lake Valrico) on any formal or regular basis,” said David Glicksberg, manager of the county’s Environmental Services department. “We did help them one time, about eight years ago or so. They wanted help with hydrilla, and the county made a deal with them where they paid for the herbicides and we had staff apply it.”

“We don’t maintain for aquatic weeds, but we do maintain for function,” Williams said. If drains get clogged up where they come into the lake or out of it, toward Lake Thonotosassa, the county will come in and clean up those areas, he said.

As for litter, Glicksberg said the county tries to keep it out of the drainage system as best it can. “Litter, everywhere, has an impact,” he said. “It’s a hard problem to solve.”

“Trash has been coming into the lake for years,” Norstrem said. “We have pushed a few different times and nothing has ever happened. Seems that unless we want to pony up some cash for an environmental attorney and engineer, we just continue to get patronizing lip service from the county.”

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