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North Port financial dilemma: Aging water control infrastructure

NORTH PORT — General Development Corp. built 81 miles of canals and waterways in the 1950s to transform wetlands into buildable lots for its North Port Charlotte development. Those canals and waterways — a defining characteristic of the city now called North Port — function in a way that is analogous to the human body’s circulatory system. The canals control flooding, keep water moving to provide stormwater treatment, and are a source of drinking water for city residents, noted city Stormwater Engineer Elizabeth Wong. Every day, road and drainage personnel check and manipulate water flow through the canals at each of 23 gated water control structures that — along with 41 weirs — move water that drains from property in the city to the Myakkahatchee Creek.

“This time of year, I’m moving water every day,” said Chuck Speake, operations and maintenance manager for North Port Public Works.

Speake has seen an aerial photo from the 1940s that showed one big water body — the Myakkahatchee Creek — and surrounding swampy wetlands.

“They dug these canals in a fashion that pretty much drained the water, put it where they wanted, and moved it out,” Speake said.

But most of the infrastructure that allows crews to put water where they want is at least 60 years old. Sixteen of the water-control structures and two weirs are in poor condition and need to be replaced.