PALMETTO -- The question for many, including Ward 2 Commissioner Tambra Varnadore, is how 1,300 feet of a deteriorating seawall stretching about 800 feet to the west of the Green Bridge along Riverside Park West and 500 feet to the east of the bridge went unnoticed for so long.
It's a $500,000 question for which no one really had an answer.
"I don't disagree that it needs to be repaired," Varnadore said. "But did this happen overnight? It has looked similar for a long time. Why is this an emergency now," she asked, referring to Monday night's agenda item to declare the seawall a hazardous public emergency.
The city of Palmetto closed off the seawall to the public in late July following an inspection that
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raised an alarm.
Public Works Director Allen Tusing said the results of the inspection were "scary" and at-large Commissioner Jonathan Davis predicted that if the city didn't act now, "It's going to fall into the river and then it's going to be a real disaster."
With the Florida Department of Transportation expected to begin construction of a multi-modal trail next year, beginning from the Green Bridge and initially running west into Riverside Park, Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant said the seawall needed to be inspected prior to construction.
While the condition surprised Bryant, she said concerns about how the seawall was holding up at the end of its structural lifespan have come before the commission in the past, "And you didn't want to do anything about it. We were concerned it wasn't structurally sound so we went ahead and hired some engineers and ascertained that it is indeed structurally losing its integrity and needed to be repaired quickly."
Raj Mathur Construction & Engineering performed a visual inspection of the seawall and provided its report to the city July 22.
The report stated the eastern portion of the seawall was still in fair condition but that portions of the concrete cap need to be replaced. The larger western section of the seawall was deemed to be in "unsafe condition."
To eliminate any further deterioration -- "or complete failure" -- emergency repairs should be undertaken to remove the existing safety concerns to the public, the report states.
'Near failure state'
The western seawall's concrete is disappearing and "It is evident that the wall is near failure stage," Tusing wrote in a summary to the city commission asking for the emergency declaration and to proceed with a $500,000 loan through the Community Redevelopment Agency to begin repairs as soon as possible.
"An immediate remedial measure is vital to preserve the condition and integrity of the shoreline."
City clerk Jim Freeman explained that an emergency declaration would allow the city to expedite the bidding process.
"It doesn't mean we won't seek quotes," Freeman said. "We know there is a certain number of linear feet involved and we'll send that out to the contractors, get the quotes back and pick one to have the work done. An emergency declaration gives us a little more flexibility to move quickly and recognize the sense of urgency."
CRA Director Jeff Burton said the seawall was within the CRA, so it would be his agency that would seek a low-interest loan.
No time frame was given for how quickly those funds might be secured or how long replacing the western wall, as well as the concrete caps on the eastern wall would take.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.