Tampa official raps river's shrub 'safety' barrier

Tampa, FL -- Well intended, but inadequate. That's Tampa Councilman Frank Reddick's take on a budding, weed-infested shrub-line planted at Temple Crest Park along the Hillsborough River.

It's the same spot where a 2-year-old tragically drowned last year.

The Tampa toddler had wandered off at night from a ballgame at the park, making his way down to the river.

Recently, the city of Tampa planted a hundred-foot barrier between the ballfield and the water, hoping to avoid such tragedies in the future. The plants, once tall enough and thick enough would stop stray balls from rolling down to the water and keep children from chasing after them.

The work drew some criticism because the plants are so short. Late Monday, Tampa spokewoman Ali Glisson said the shrubs are smaller than the 2 to 3 feet they should be, and will be replaced Tuesday morning.

The plants were a compromise effort after neighbors who enjoy access to the river opposed installing a fence.

"Obviously, the shrubs have to grow," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, "We recognize that. But fencing off the entire river is just not an option."

A city spokesperson points out that there are many riverfront parks throughout Tampa, and that in the last 10 years Armani Pierce's drowning was the only one under such circumstances -- where a child had wandered off.

There is also no record of any similar incident since.

Armani's grandfather says the family was not informed about the city's efforts. He called it a "blessing," but admittedly had not yet seen the plants in person.

When you do see them, however, it's easier to understand why critics would question the effectiveness of the shrubs.

Even if it stretched a couple of hundred feet it would not be nearly as long as the park's full waterfront.

And even if it eventually grew to be six feet tall, it would still have huge gaps in it which would allow children to easily make their way down to the water's edge.

"I'm not pleased with what I see," said Reddick, who represents this district and was visiting the barrier for the first time Monday.

Reddick says it's not what he'd envisioned. "More like weeds," than shrubs, he said.

And as far as it eventually growing in?

"We might have another death within another year, and that's what we're trying to prevent," said Reddick.

The problem, admits the councilman, is that when the city considered putting up a fence it got a lot of pressure from neighbors want to maintain access to the water.

People like Gilbert Trent, who fishes there.

"What if we were going to the beach? As far as it stretches around – are you gonna put a fence around that too?" asked Trent.

There's no barrier, says Trent, stronger than parental supervision.

Still, Reddick plans to meet with Tampa's Parks and Recreation Director Greg Bayor on Tuesday, to tell him the city can and must do better.


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