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Operation Fight the Blight focused in Ruskin

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image Typical of the kind of sites singled out for attention during the ongoing local Operation Fight the Blight clean-up campaign, this uninhabited duplex on Shell Point Road is surrounded with overgrown weeds and grass likely to harbor snakes and rodents.

The 10-day sweep, begun Monday and scheduled to continue through August 10, is focused on a eastern Ruskin.

By MELODY JAMESON

RUSKIN – Taking aim on trash, overgrowth, junk vehicles, abandoned properties and other factors that make neighborhoods unsafe and unsightly, a multi-agency force led by Hillsborough County Code Enforcement officers launched Operation Fight the Blight here this week.

The 10-day sweep, begun Monday and scheduled to continue through August 10, is being focused on residential areas within a large section of eastern Ruskin. That field of operations is between Shell Point Road and College Avenue East, bordered on the west by U.S. 41 and on the east by the interstate highway.

 The Ruskin clean-up campaign is the fourth in a series initiated last November, according to Carol Michel, a county communications coordinator working onsite with the combined agencies Monday. The first time a 10-day effort was focused in the University of South Florida area, followed by a clean-up in Grant Park for five days. The longest campaign to date, lasting 30 days, was undertaken in April this year in Orient Park neighborhoods, she added, where 1,600 old tires were removed, several hazards such as old septic tanks were uncovered and a concealed nest of an estimated 10,000 yellow jackets was found.

Zeroing in first on properties along and south of Shell Point East, code enforcement officers and Hillsborough jail inmates participating in a community service program began by collecting and hauling trailer loads of dead vegetation, tree and yard overgrowth as well as other trash from an abandoned rental property now in foreclosure by a lender.

The debris was taken to a temporary command center in Beaudette Park on 6th Street S.E., immediately north of the Ruskin Senior Center, and transferred to dumpsters placed within a fenced portion for later disposal.

From this point, officers fanned out in the operations field looking for evidence of criminal activity, for vagrants, for other abandoned property and unsecured structures, for graffiti, for inoperable vehicles as well as for collectible debris. All of it falls under code enforcement authority, Michel said.

Although they can initiate condemnation and demolition actions, the officers did not anticipate condemning any vacant or dilapidated housing in the area during this sweep as they have done in previous clean-up campaigns in other parts of the county, she noted.

The Shell Point East rental property, for instance, while surrounded by tall, heavily overgrown weeds probably harboring snakes, rodents or other vermin and not considered suitable for human habitation at the present time, appears structurally sound and might be recovered as housing, noted Bill Langford, code enforcement supervisor.

In the case of graffiti, the department’s anti-graffiti unit also participating in the clean-up operation would be prepared to clean off or cover up such markings on buildings, fences or utility poles, Michel added.

Benefits of Operation Fight the Blight can be many, Langford pointed out. When a neighborhood is blighted with one or more home sites where the vegetation is overgrown or junk is accumulating or vacant structures are being used by vagrants and illegal activity or offensive graffiti defaces surfaces, everyone and everything suffers, he asserted.

On the other hand, he added, when these issues are addressed the neighborhood become a safer environment for children at play or pedestrians on the streets and takes on a more attractive appearance encouraging renewed community pride as well as enhancing property values. “People just feel better about where they live,” he noted.
Operation Fight the Blight is the result of cooperative efforts by the county’s Affordable Housing Services, Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, Public Utilities Department, the 911 Administration and the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office, Michel said.

It is funded by grants, many of them obtained through the Community Development Block Grants programs.

Asked if he could make a dollar comparison of the costs involved in undertaking Operation Fight the Blight with monetary evaluation of the positive results achieved, Langford responded that such a calculation would be difficult. “How do you put a dollar value on enhanced safety for a child able to play outdoors?” he asked rhetorically, “or on a neighborhood where pride has been restored?”

Ruskin residents, too, can participate in Operation Fight the Blight by using the dumpsters in Beaudette Park for debris and trash until Wednesday, August 8. However, neither tires nor chemicals can be collected in the dumpsters.

Questions should be directed to the code enforcement office at 813-274-6636.

Copyright 2012 Melody Jameson

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