When Wendy Sheehan heard Hurricane Irma was on the way, she wasn’t too concerned. Her family placed sandbags around the house to prevent flooding and hoped for the best.
On Sept. 10, the night before Irma hit Alachua County, she checked the water pump outside her home. It wasn’t on, but she didn’t think the stormwater would come high enough to enter her home.
But by 8 a.m. the next morning, water began seeping through her doorway. Her entire home was flooded within the hour.
“There was a current running through the house,” Sheehan said.
The storm surge from a nearby retention pond brought several inches of water into her home. The water rose above the baseboards, ruining everything in its wake including the flooring, furniture and drywall. On Tuesday evening, more than 24 hours after the storm, water still splashed as neighbors and family walked across the debris-soaked carpet.
Her son, Garrett Sheehan, cried watching his personal belongings washed away.
“Nothing really brings me to tears, but I was in tears,” he said. “My whole family was.”
Many of the Robin Lane neighborhood residents are wondering why the Sheehan home flooded.
A 2010 Alachua County report identified the Robin Lane development as a “high priority” risk for severe flooding. The county documents referenced water up to six feet after Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne that “trapped” residents and “flooded a low-lying residential house.”
Even without major tropical storms, the documents state the area has flooding problems roughly every two years and occasionally, multiple times per year.
The report also details a solution: constructing an additional pond to “retain excess runoff and provide outfall from landlocked pond to FDOT system.” This project would cost about $810,000, but the analysis shows the cost benefit would be around $2,718,568.
But that project hasn’t moved forward.
The only solution so far is a water pump, but county engineer Ramon Gavarrete said it didn’t work when Irma came.
“Unfortunately, the pump failed and then we had to go turn it back on after the hurricane went through,” he said.
After the storm, the county had to bring in three additional pumps to help clear the stormwater from Robin Lane. For more than two days, the only way in or out of the subdivision was through private property.
During that time, neighbors and friends canoed through the stormwater, walked down hills and jumped walls to help the Sheehans empty their home.
Dona Doolittle has lived on Robin Lane along with the Sheehans for 17 years. She said the county assured her and her neighbors in 2004 the flooding issue would be resolved.
“They said this will never happen again, it was a freaky thing, but well look, it’s happened again,” Doolittle said.
She’s frustrated from a lack of action by the county.
“We’ve gotta do something. The county commission has to do something,” Doolittle said, as she looked at the Sheehan’s ruined home. “They don’t deserve this, and this is ridiculous.”
The next step is up to the county commissioners, none of whom returned requests for comment.
As for the Sheehan family, they plan on returning to their Robin Lane home once the damage has been cleaned up.
“Robin Lane has been our home since our son was an infant,” Wendy Sheehan said. “We’ve been here 18 years, we love the location, we love our neighborhood, and we’re going to take it one day at a time.”