Ken Jaeger has lived in his home on West Admiral Byrd Lane in Crystal River City for 34 years. After it rains, he can’t mow his lawn.
Mark Masella lives next door to Jaeger. After it rains, he can’t walk the length of his yard.
Just around the corner, a Dairy Queen along U.S. Highway 19 is losing its customers. After it rains, drivers can’t make it into the parking lot.
“We’ve been crying for help,” Jaeger said.
Flooding is an issue that residents say has plagued their community for as long as they can remember. In 1989, the water in Jaeger’s lawn reached 4 feet and almost made it into his home.
“That’s when it got real bad,” Jaeger said. “It was funny. It was a battle between the county and the state. The county was saying it was the state’s drainage under U.S.19, and the state had to come back and say, ‘Wait a minute. We don’t have drainage under 19, what the heck are you talking about?’”
Jaeger said tension always surrounds the flooding issues in this community. On multiple occasions, he’s tried seeking help from Citrus County but not received an answer he liked.
“I had a guy come out here [from the county] telling me that it never did this,” Jaeger said. “And he has these charts in his hand, but wait a minute, I’ve lived here 34 years and you’re going to tell me this?”
The only road in and out of their neighborhood typically floods up to 2 feet, and it regularly develops potholes.
“It’s tearing our tires and stuff up,” said Jack Vaughn, another resident. “One lady, she blew two tires out.”
According to the residents, only bigger vehicles like trucks can make it in and out safely. Jaeger, an avid motorcyclist, can’t get his bike out whenever it rains. Instead, he uses a trail he discovered through the grass.
“Someone from the county was out here pumping [the water in the road] for two weeks solid,” Masella said. “And we’ve got to call them [when it floods]. They don’t come on their own.”
The last time it flooded, Jaeger found the county’s solution laughable.
“They did us a big favor,” Jaeger said, adding some humor to the situation. “They put signs [up that said], ‘Road Flooding.’ Then they tried to fill that big pothole. They tried filling it while it was underwater.”
On Oct. 2, Masella and Jaeger’s neighborhood hadn’t received rain for about a week or two. Yet, about a third of Masella’s yard was flooded. In the past, he said the water in his lawn has even reached up to his porch.
“We shouldn’t have to go through this,” Jaeger said. “This should have been in the long-term planning. But they’re acting like this is something new.”
WUFT reached out to the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners for comment but did not receive a reply.
Masella and Jaeger both believe development of homes, roads and other infrastructure is causing the flooding to worsen over time.
In 1995, Jaeger said the wetlands that helped control the water runoff from the nearby Crystal River Captain Tom Davis Airport were removed. This caused flooding to worsen on Admiral Byrd Lane.
“We’re the lowest point,” Jaeger said.
The airport runway, an impervious surface, doesn’t absorb rainwater. Instead, the runoff flows down and into the neighborhood.
Jaeger said he had a role in removing the wetlands. In 1995, he was arrested for battery, and as an inmate, he worked as a trustee on a road crew.
“One of our jobs was removing the wetlands over there,” Jaeger said. “So, I personally had involvement in removing it!”
Now, residents are having to raise their properties due to the constant flooding. Jaeger said new mobile homeowners are even encouraged to raise.
Though Jaeger hasn’t raised his yet, he’s noticed how altering the land on some properties has led to more water damage for houses that are at a lower level.
“All the water’s getting up underneath our homes, and it’s settling,” Jaeger said. “My doors ain’t working in my house properly anymore … and my trailer’s bowing out from the settlement.”
In addition, Citrus County is currently undergoing a major highway project.
In 2016 and 2019, respectively, two projects to widen U.S.-19 began in the neighboring towns of Crystal River City and Homosassa. One of them is meant to widen the stretch of the road from West Green Acres Street to South Jump Court, and the other from Jump Court to Fort Island Trail.
“When they started, it was OK,” said Nick Sidhpura, owner of the Dairy Queen on 727 N. Suncoast Blvd.
This Dairy Queen is situated along U.S. 19.
When D.A.B. Constructors Inc. left the projects in July, construction came to a halt. Kristen Carson, the public information director for the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), said D.A.B. submitted a letter to the department stating that it was financially unable to complete the project.
Since then, Sidhpura said the flooding in his business’s parking lot has worsened.
“Customers don’t want to come inside and mess up their cars,” Sidhpura said. “So business is being impacted every time it rains because of the construction, majorly.”
One Dairy Queen employee said it’s common for customers’ and employees’ pants to get wet up to mid-calf while walking through the lot. Vaughn saw the flooding first-hand.
“[The parking lot] looked like a swimming pool,” Vaughn said.
This isn’t just a major inconvenience. It’s also dangerous.
The establishment recently had to put a barrier in front of a parking spot’s wheel stop to keep customers from accidentally running into it. The water gets to be so high that the wheel stop is not visible to drivers, leading them to hit it on their way out of the drive-thru.
Sidhpura said he’s contacted Crystal River City a few times via email about the flooding.
Carson said FDOT Maintenance crews responded to the flooding at the Dairy Queen by using pumps to remove the water. The department also installed a ditch on Sept. 9 to allow the water to drain away.
“We had several rain events after the ditch was installed, and there was no further flooding,” Carson said.
However, Sidhpura and Jaeger both think that a probable, more permanent solution to flooding would be a new sewer system.
“If our taxes have to go up to bring sewer in, so be it,” said Jaeger about the situation in his neighborhood. “We can’t keep living this way.”