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Council member Lori Boyer
Jax Daily Record Friday, Jul. 25, 201412:00 PM EST

After years of struggling, Larsen neighborhood finally getting quality water

by: David Chapman

For more than 15 years, Pat Bridgeman has been knocking on doors.

The Larsen Neighborhood Association president has been seeking assistance from city leaders to bring clean, reliable water to her Southside neighborhood.

Some of the more than 300 households, those along the main streets at least, are OK. In the late 1980s, water pipes were installed that allowed connections to city water and sewer.

For close to 100 others, the wells they relied on had become contaminated or dry, leaving residents looking for alternatives. More wells weren’t really an option because of septic-tank distance requirements.

Bridgeman said the neighborhood residents are low-income and elderly who don’t have the thousands of dollars needed to pay for the lines. For years, they’ve struggled for options.

“It’s been a necessity needed for a long time,” said Bridgeman of the neighborhood’s water problems. “It is getting to be an urgent need.”

Past administrations and council members, she said, “offered a glimmer of hope for good water.” That came despite pushback from the city and JEA over the years, as neither said it was their role to pay for the lines.

Out of options, Bridgman said she turned to prayer and “doors just started opening up.”

One of the people who answered was City Council member Lori Boyer.

The neighborhood just south of Downtown is in her district and she attended a neighborhood meeting last fall to hear firsthand of the problems. One Clairmont Road resident had no possibility of water whatsoever — he had shared through a neighbor, but that was no longer an option. Boyer filed emergency legislation that extended city lines and provided the necessity by the fall holidays.

Others still needed help. And more doors started opening.

Builders Care, the nonprofit arm of the Northeast Florida Builders Association, came forth to donate its services should funding become available for city lines to be installed.

Greg Matovina, a Builders Care board member, said after news continued about the community’s struggle, he knew he had to help. The organization typically does homes for low-income people, not water-line projects. But Matovina said the need was too great.

Roto-Rooter Plumbing and Drain Service also answered the call, helping with connections.

And Teresa Eichner, Mayor Alvin Brown’s council liaison, had a personal history in the neighborhood and stepped up to look for funding for the situation.

Bridgeman said for the first time, it started to come together.

She also knocked on more doors — literally. She and her congregation at Southside Baptist Church canvassed the neighborhood door-to-door to document who had wells, who needed assistance and who could be eligible for a JEA program that helps pay for connection fees. The church, she said, has adopted the neighborhood through its water struggles.

Funding was found.

Boyer filed legislation last month taking $413,000 from a city stormwater account through loan income received by the now-defunct Water and Sewer Expansion Authority. Council passed that bill Tuesday. A bill-signing ceremony featuring Boyer, Brown and other council members is set for Saturday in the neighborhood.

Matovina said the work will be done in stages over a year.

The first neighbors could have connections by the end of the year.

After months of investigating, meetings, research and selling the need, Boyer said she’s delighted with the progress.

“In the case of a district representative, you become all too familiar with details of properties in your district,” she said. “If you can knock a few (problems) off the list and make that part of the city better, that’s an accomplishment.”

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