Peril getting plugged
SEBRING - On a cloudy day, Juan Laserna and Laura Suarez ate lunch Tuesday and watched as workers continued filling a dredge hole at City Pier Beach on Lake Jackson. While they watched they recalled times they would swim in the water and ride over to the area in a boat. Laserna said during one boat trip a friend jumped out of the craft and ended up in the dredge hole, but was OK. "We made fun of him," Suarez said.Unfortunately, for another person who went swimming in the lake, falling in the hole proved fatal in 2008 and the beach has been closed since then. But it may reopen by May, said City Administrator Scott Noethlich. Energy Resources of Chesterfield Beach, Mo., is expected to complete its work by May, Noethlich said. Reopening of the beach will depend on Health Department tests of the water for bacterial content. Noethlich said a delay of opening the beach area for swimming may occur after the work is complete because the project results in muddy water, as sediments are stirred up. Energy Resources is filling the hole with 7,000 to 12,000 cubic yards of material. The hole covers about .75 acres and is 12-feet deep. Fill material will be taken out of an area further from the beach than the hole, Noethlich said, adding that a new hole won't be created, but the slope will be reduced. Noethlich said that the hole was dredged in the 1970s to create the beach area near the civic center and Highlands Little Theatre. At the time, the lake was apparently deeper, which meant the hole did not create a problem, he said. Many in the community, including Laserna and Suarez, are expected to be happy when the beach reopens. "It's been one of most popular beaches for people to swim," Noethlich said. The facilities include a place to change clothes and a playground. There's been a canoe event and triathlon every year, Noethlich said. Noethlich said the cost of the project was the main reason for its delay after the area closed for swimming. Officials also waited in hopes that the depth of the lake would increase, he said. The city looked at getting materials from outside of the lake, but that would have been more expensive, Noethlich said. The project cost about $144,000 with contributions from the city, the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Highlands County Tourist Development Council and the Highlands County Soil and Water Conservation Board. The CRA's board of directors has discussed the possibility of a reopening celebration in May.