Remark by Citizen Triggers Coppen Criticism of IRB's Neglect of City's South Side
by Leo Coughlin
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - A member of the City Commission has fired back after what certainly could be taken as a snide remark at the City Commission's budget hearing meeting September 5.
Ed Piniero, a former member of the commission, suggested at the session last Wednesday, not once but twice, that property owners south of Walsingham Road pay for the relocation of a sewer line that must be re-located by state order in the course of new drainage pipes that will be installed by the state Department of Transportation.
Jose Coppen, reacting to the implication of Piniero's remark, indicated that it was directed at him and where he lives.
The two have been rivals, ever since Coppen won the chairmanship of the Planning & Zoning Board and then during the time both were on the City Commission. Coppen was elected to a full two-year term in 2006 while Piniero was an also-ran and had to settle for a one-year term.
Then, to add insult to that injury, Piniero was thrown out of office last March when Bert Valery and Terry Hamilton-Wollin scored an upset and gained commission seats.
In fact, the infrastructure repairs that are going to be necessary are the responsibility of the city.
"This lays Piniero's divisive statement to rest," Coppen said.
This was the latest episode in a city where politics are red hot. In fact, it appears the re-election campaign by Mayor-Commissioner Bill Ockunzzi, with Nancy Obarsky as one of his chief helpers, has begun. He put out a clearly political e-mail that was widely distributed prior to last Wednesday's budget meeting.
Ironically, Coppen sticks pretty much to commissioner duties and does little politicking. Since his election in March, 2006, he has been hassled over one thing after another in the highly political atmosphere that had been created by Ockunzzi and his pals.
Coppen used Piniero's remark to focus on the different ways the city south of Walsingham is treated compared with the part that lies north of Walsingham.
"This provocation made my analyze the lack of attention past and present city governments have given to the residents in the south part of our city," Coppen said.
For example, Coppen said, "Whitehurst, our first beach access, has never been developed. It sits bare with no landscaping. While many of our beach accesses have received multiple improvements, this beach access has seen none."
Because nothing has been done to improve the Whitehurst access, this could be dangerous, Coppen said. "The fact that Whitehurst is unprotected by either seawall or dunes could easily cause significant erosion and damage to Gulf Bouleard should there be a storm surge."
He went on - "Whitehurst had been paid no attention until recently, when an over-eager developer from Indian Shores attempted to encumber our beach access for a condo structure and placed a construction fence that still stands eight feet into city property. The case has made it now in court even after some elected officials of IRB were sowing much confusion as to our ownership."
The Whitehurst controversy has gone on for months with Ockunzzi at one point "massaging" a document submitted by one of the lawyers involved in the fracas.
South of Walsingham presents scenes described in blunt terms by Coppen.
"Proceed north along Gulf Boulevard and you'll see a desolate half-mile of road with a few cabbage palms, a couple of dilapidated benches but no pedestrian shelters and a dozen newsracks ready to litter the Intracoastal waterway at the first strong westerly wind. While residents pay the highest taxes per mile, Indian Rocks Beach disclaims responsibility with the excuse that Gulf Boulevard is a state road south of Walsingham," Coppen said.
Coppen also pointed out that in the region water collects after rainstorms because of improper drainage. "Tourists may wonder why this part of our beautiful beach city is in such neglect," he said.
"But," he said, "things improve once you go near Walsingham. There are well maintained beach accesses - so over-landscaped that the city is being cited for overdoing it and blocking access to a residence. We not only paid for the installation, we will have to pay now for its removal."
Coppen said there is extensive landscaping on public property north of Walsingham paid for by the city. "North of Walsingham," Coppen said, "the panorama improves considerably. For example, East Gulf Boulevard is adorned with palms and a landscaped median that some residents find a nuisance and a hazard."
The neglect even extends to the annual Christmas lights, Coppen said. "While the city north of Walsingham glitters, few lights are on the south side and none going to the city line with Indian Shores."
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