TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — Tarpon Springs is a tourist destination famous for its Greek community, sponges, and local shops.
“Most of our revenue comes from tourism,” said Chris Alahouzos, Mayor of Tarpon Springs.
However, the waterfront city is also known for its flooding.
“This whole street will flood… It’s definitely a situation that’s serious here in Tarpon Springs,” said Rea Sieber, Owner of Wine at the Docks and former City Commissioner.
“The elevation of our properties in Tarpon Springs, we have many areas that very, very low,” said Alahouzos.
It’s especially bad around the sponge docks.
“We’re like a little island because you can’t get to the sponge docks if the streets around us flood,” said Sieber.
“At Athens and Dodecanese it’s a pretty big deal because if cars do come through that area when the water is two feet high, they splash into the stores,” said added.
“In order to get to our business you have to pass through areas that do flood,” said Julie Russell, Owner and Purveyor of Rusty Bellies and Pelican Point Seafood.
People see floods from high tides and heavy rains.
“We can’t even get here. I’ve tried believe me,” said Sieber.
Business owners say the flooding in Tarpons Springs is getting worse.
“We see it not just during those times where the hurricanes may come through or severe tides but there are some roads that flood maybe several times a month,” said Russell.
It’s a big problem that this community has been dealing with for years and it's having a major impact on businesses.
“You’re just out of business on those days. Nobody is going to walk around in two, three feet of water or more and it’s hard to get here,” said Sieber.
“We have learned to adapt, but you can see that fluctuation. People will say to us oh I know the tide is high so we’re not going to come down to the docks,” said Russell.
Right now the city is working on multiple projects to try to fix it.
“We installed check valves. Check valves are preventing the water from coming back when the tide is high. But when it rains you have additional water coming in and there’s no place to go so what we need to do there is we need to build a vault, a pumping station if you will,” said Alahouzos.
They’re also working on storm pipe upgrades and restoring and replacing seawalls.
However, it’s the dredging project of the Anclote River that city leaders say they need more than ever.
They’ve been working on getting this project going for the past six years. It’s been delayed because they keep running into different issues, like funding.
“It’s very important to get done for our city because we are working water fronts and the last safe harbor before you get to the panhandle,” said Sieber.
The river hasn’t been dredged in nearly three decades.
“Of course it’s creating a problem with the flooding because of the high silt levels,” said Sieber.
The river is used for commercial fishing and sponge diving, which are big money makers.
Right now many boats can’t get through unless it’s high tide because it’s so filled with sediment.
“We are very concerned about our fishing boats. Right now the channel is not safe… tourism is kind of connected with the fishing and sponging and all that. So the channel is very, very much involved,” said Alahouzos.
Officials say the dredging would also help with the flooding.
“That will help us with the flow and the levels not going to the extent that they are,” said Sieber.
“All of our businesses survive off of local and tourism so it’s very important that we stop this problem from happening,” said Russell.
People here are hopeful things will get better, but say the clock is ticking to get these projects done.
“I think it’s going to take time,” said Sieber.