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Alachua County Commission Takes First Step to Fixing Legacy Flood Issues

A photo from an Alachua County report taken several days after Hurricane Frances in 2004 looking at Robin Lane, or NW 75th Street.
A photo from an Alachua County report taken several days after Hurricane Frances in 2004 looking at Robin Lane, or NW 75th Street.

Brian Sheehan will be moving to his fourth residence this Saturday since flooding from Hurricane Irma damaged his home.

Sheehan said he lost everything because of the flooding in his Robin Lane home. His moves have been costly, but the flooding in his home and other Alachua County residences is nothing new.

"It's getting out of my pocket," Sheehan said. "We are one of the houses that lost everything. Our house is gutted."

Sheehan and other Alachua county residents spoke last night at a special Board of County Commissioners meeting that covered proposed plans the Public Works department created to fix the major flooding problems in areas across the county. This is the first major step taken since the 2010 Stormwater Master Plan, which never advanced beyond the plan's presentation.

Flooding issues have persisted in the area for years. Residents recall 2004 as being one of the worst flooding years because of multiple storms. Residents of Meadowbrook, which is located along Northwest 98th Street, formed a committee after Hurricane Irma to bring attention to the flooding issues. Residents from multiple neighborhoods, such as Hills of Santa Fe and Pine Hills Estates, joined the committee soon after.

On Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m. Alachua County Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting at the Alachua County Administration Building to address what the best course of action would be to implement the Public Works department's plan.

Lee Pinkoson, chair of the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners, said he was hopeful that they would come up with good, positive solutions to the flooding issue.

The Alachua County Public Works department spent several months after Hurricane Irma visiting areas that have been affected by flooding for many years. Some of these areas were evaluated for the 2010 Stormwater Master Plan, but new areas that were impacted by Hurricane Irma were also evaluated.

The Public Works department presented the results at the meeting and showed possible fixes to the flooding issues in Alachua County subdivisions. The locations evaluated were prioritized based on which areas were in the most need of flood mitigation.

“It’s prioritized based on roadway flooding, construction flooding and intersecting those in a matrix to come up with a list,” said James Link, Alachua County Public Works Stormwater Engineer.

Multiple options were given for each of the 14 priority areas to see how they could stop flooding problems. Robin Lane, for example, was at the top of the priority list, because it was one of the areas that suffered the worst flooding from Hurricane Irma, said Ramon Gavarrete, a county engineer who presented the flood mitigation plans.

The following areas, in order, were considered priority:

  1. Robin Lane

  2. Hills of Santa Fe/Meadowbrook

  3. Hayes Glen

  4. Pine Hill Estates

  5. Oak Crest / Eagle Point & Chelsea Lane

  6. Emerald Woods

  7. Royal Oaks / Willow Bend

  8. Sunningdale

  9. Heatherwood

  10. Richmond/ Moon Lake

  11. Rustlewood

  12. Southwest 91st Street at Southwest 12th Avenue

  13. Northwest 91st Street

  14. Northwest 39th Avenue

The plans to stop the flooding differed based on the location.

Three different options to stop the flooding in Robin Lane were presented. One option involved connecting an underground storm drain underneath NW 39th Avenue, but this would be a bare minimum fix, Gavarette said. In the second option, the county would buy properties in this area from residents and reconstruct the roadway. For option three, the county would purchase vacant properties in the area and reconstruct the roadway there.

The Board of County Commissioners deliberated the information Gavarette presented and proposed an eight-part motion to address the flooding issue.

The county unanimously voted to:

  1. Make flooded homes the first priority on the basis of severity, and speak with homeowners about their willingness to sell their home.

  2. Find options that prevent flooding, but are less costly than purchasing homes.

  3. Identify subdivisions where road closures from flooding pose a threat to public safety.

  4. Estimate costs of purchasing residents homes and present this information to the board.

  5. Identify areas where additional funding may be found.

  6. Present these funding options to the board.

  7. Authorize contracts for outside consultants to assist the Public Works department.

  8. Analyze all of Alachua county for possible flood zones and add these to the priority list.

Robert Hutchinson, county commissioner for district three, said that dealing with all of the 14 projects in this report and helping neighborhoods not yet analyzed may take a decade to go through. He said the county will be able to complete a couple of these projects a year.

“These things take time,” said James Harriott, Deputy County Manager for Public Works and Growth Management. “These projects are going to take time.”

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Alachua County residents spoke about their flooding issues. Most spoke about their position on selling their property to the county.

Hills of Santa Fe resident Luisa Pena lives in one of the first three homes that flooded in the neighborhood after Hurricane Irma, but she doesn’t want to sell her home.

“I have a lot more to lose than just the financial end of my home,” Pena said. “It’s not that easy for me to just uproot my family and move somewhere else. I won’t be able to afford another home. It’s not a possibility for me.”

Other residents were willing to sell their home.

“I like my house,” said Lynn Moody, Sunningdale resident whose property has flooded three times since he’s lived there. “It’s in a great place. I’d be more than happy to sell it because I’m tired of remodeling. I’m really tired of it.”

In 2004, he had 16 inches of water on his property and throughout his house costing him $80,000 to repair. After Hurricane Irma, he only had three inches of water in his house, but it cost him about $115,000 because the house is no longer in good condition.

Gavarrete and the Public Works staff’s next step is to prioritize individual home damage and contact homeowners about possible land acquisitions. The plan is to bring data back to the Board by the second week in January.


Justin is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6396 or emailing news@wuft.org.
Summer Jarro is a WUFT news reporter and third-year journalism student at UF who can be contacted at 352-392-6397 or s0945834@ufl.edu.