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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2017
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Fish farm owner brings out cannon in battle over dried-up ponds

RIVERVIEW - From sunrise to sunset, at a Riverview fish farm surrounded by houses, a noise cannon goes off every 59 seconds. It's been this way since Saturday. Neighbors say the booming is driving them nuts. "Saturday it was annoying, Sunday it was getting more annoying, and now it's a lot annoying," said Kathy Otto, who lives nearby. Passersby stream into a convenience store to see if the clerk knows where the boom is coming from. It took a few days to figure it out, but neighbors are discovering the source of the noise is Buzbee's Tropical Fish, where owner John Buzbee is feuding with the home builder next door.
Buzbee says MI Homes is draining his ponds and hurting his business. The cannon is his way of fighting back. MI Homes put in a ditch near Buzbee's property line. It's designed to keep storm water from flooding the new neighborhood. But since the fish farm is on higher ground, Buzbee says, the ditch also drains water out of his ponds and prevents fresh groundwater from filling them back up. The front of Buzbee's land has ponds with about 5 to 6 feet of water, he said. But the closer the ponds are to the back of the farm, near MI's construction, the lower the water levels. Now, some ponds barely have a foot or two of water left. With the level that low, birds wade in the ponds and eat Buzbee's fish. MI Homes says it's done nothing wrong and can't help Buzbee. That's where the cannon comes in. Since Buzbees' farm is zoned for agricultural use, he's permitted to use the cannon to scare off birds. And if it scares off home buyers next door, well, maybe that will nudge the builder to fix the water problem, says Buzbee, who has run the farm since the 1970s. "I don't want to be the most hated guy around, aggravating everyone, but they've given me no other option to try to save what stock I do have back here," Buzbee said. Saturday, the day the cannon went up, the builder was in the middle of an open house tour. "There was a mad exodus of cars out of here," Buzbee said. Mark Spada, vice president of MI Homes, didn't return calls today, but said last month his company only did what it was permitted to do by government officials. Spada blamed the dry weather, not the ditch, for Buzbee's water troubles. Government agencies are still looking into the situation. County staff found the builder did indeed follow the rules, said Willie Puz, spokesman for Hillsborough County. Still undetermined is whether the builder's actions actually hurt the fish farm. The county may try to persuade the builder to work something out, Puz said. Another county agency, the Environmental Protection Commission, also started investigating but stopped when it learned it didn't have jurisdiction over an agricultural operation like the fish farm. The regional Southwest Florida Water Management District is also investigating. Meanwhile, neighbors such as Kathy Otto say they feel bad for Buzbee but they don't like being within earshot of this feud. "The rest of the neighborhood doesn't have to suffer, I don't think," Otto said. Buzbee says he understands the noise complaints but he's not backing down. So what happens if the builder doesn't back down either? How long will the noise go on? "I guess as long as I'm able to farm back here," Buzbee said.

sbehnken@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7804

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