Cape Coral and Southwest Florida Feature Stories
Written by Eric Taubert Thursday, 26 April 2007 00:00
The occupation began months ago.
It started quietly. Letters in the mail with ungodly cost estimates. Signs welcoming travelers to the Southwest Four Utility Expansion Area. Mountains of dirt on Skyline Boulevard. Closed Lanes on Chiquita Boulevard. Big piles of stacked plastic pipes in vacant lots a mile away.
Then the firestorm began. Angry residents. Town Hall meetings. Community organizers. Cape Coral Minutemen. Flyers on our doorsteps. “For Sale” signs on every lawn. News Press investigations.
A whole new set of letters, with “revised” prices, arrived in the mail. The “revised” prices were nearly identical to the original. I guess all our furor didn’t accomplish much.
A new flyer arrived on our doorstep. A neighborhood meeting on a local corner was announced, hosted by the Senior Inspector of KBR Government and Infrastructure. He briefed the scant few in attendance on the construction process. He outlined the discomforts we could expect to endure over the next six months. Detours and road closures. Restricted resident access. Mail delivery interruptions. Garbage pick-up postponements. “You’ll need to cover your pools to keep the dirt out.” Pumps running 24 hours a day. Broken sprinkler systems. Six day work weeks…7am to 6pm. Dismantled driveways. “There shouldn’t be any problem with the cracking of foundations from the vibrations.”
“Everything should be fixed and replaced within six months from the time we break ground near your house.” He smiled a corporate smile and handed me a business card. His name and address were on the front alongside the KBR logo. On the back, in thick red letters, was the word HALLIBURTON.
The waiting continued. Over the next few weeks evidence began to accumulate on the nearby vacant lots. First there were large concrete fixtures. Then there were piles of dirt. A few days later brought collections of stacked plastic piping. Then enormous black cylinders. Dump trucks began dieseling through the streets ad nauseum.
The big debate among neighbors was whether or not to cover our pools. “The filter should clean it all out.” One of our neighbors decided to cover. The rest of us let it ride.
Two more weeks and they finally broke ground at the far end of our neighborhood. Thus began the surge.
The advancing army inched closer daily. “Road Closed” signs marked the most active areas. “Local Traffic Only” and “Detour” signs changed places daily. Men in hardhats stood in groups of threes and fours, motionlessly overseeing the digging of holes by other hardhats in big machines.
Five days ago they began their occupation of my front yard. I live at a crossroads of sorts, having bought on a corner lot. The crossroads are where they set up camp. The corner lots pay a higher price, literally and figuratively, financially and emotionally.
The past few days have been surreal. I’ve struggled with how to put the experience into words, strange imagery and awkward turns of phrase repeatedly derail my efforts.
Industrial cacophony clashes against the dissonance of modern construction. Metal scraping and screeching sings alongside deep guttural engine revving to the beat of sporadic back-up beeping. Harsh diesel exhaust fumes ride the breeze with the dust particles of commercial fill, choking us all, exponentially magnifying the symptoms of seasonal allergy sufferers. Endless jackhammer hydraulic pounding threatens the foundation of the house, audible in the rattling of loose fixtures. A complete and uninterrupted aural invasion of privacy and serenity has ensued. It’s much worse than I ever expected.
As I sit writing this, their work may be done for the day, but their occupation of my property is complete. I’ve been conquered.
Two tank-like trucks are parked on my side lawn. My mail box is uprooted and placed on its side. A mid-sized generator has been deposited on my front lawn. A fifteen foot long metal dumpster has been dragged across the entire length of my property, leaving huge gouges in what was once healthy grass.
The center of the crossroads is now a hole ten feet deep. They’ve parked other big trucks around the hole and covered it with fluorescent orange safety netting. Still the curious children go poking around.
My lanai is covered with a thin film of black filth, the edges and bottom of the pool show evidence of accumulating sediment. As I assess the damage, I look up to see my one pool-covering neighbor watching me with a superior grin on his face.
A machine the size of a small shed, presumably a pump, runs continuously…all day and all night, mere feet from my house. It’s covered with flimsy scraps of particle-board, presumably to sound-proof it. It sounds like the nights after a violent hurricane, before the power has been restored, when you lie in your sweat-drenched bed, jealous at the growling purr of neighbors’ generators. Tonight I’ll drift asleep to its monotone drone.
Today’s headlines scream about drought conditions and watering restrictions. Stories circulate about wells gone dry. I wonder if mine will make it through the dry spell. There’s no significant precipitation in sight. This is why we need the utilities. Too much growth. Not enough resources. Too much development. Not enough planning. Too little too late always ends up costing too much too fast.
So we’re the generation destined to bring this city to it’s next logical evolutionary step. We bear the burdens. We foot the bill. This is how it feels to live in a city at the crossroads.
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