BROOKSVILLE — Your mobile home park would have flooded in 1999, too.
That's the conclusion the Florida Department of Transportation is giving Woody Wirtz, the owner of Imperial Estates, after investigating his claim that the project to widen U.S. 41 in 2000 is the reason the water rose so high in Imperial Estates during Tropical Storm Debby in June.
Debby's floodwaters inundated about a dozen homes on the north side of the mobile home park that Wirtz's family has owned since 1976, four years after it opened.
Debby was the kind of rainmaker that comes about once a century, and Imperial Estates is in a low-lying area, so the flooding would have been just as bad before 41 was raised and widened to six lanes, DOT engineers say.
"The magnitude of the tropical storm Debby and the relatively low elevation of the property would have yielded essentially the same results even if the project had not been constructed," Debby Hunt, director of transportation development, wrote in a letter to Wirtz drafted last week.
The department used Debby's rainfall data, flood maps and surveys of the area before the widening project to simulate what would have happened had 11.8 inches of rain fallen in 24 hours with the old, two-lane roadway profile, said Megan Arasteh, a district drainage engineer for the department who met with Wirtz at the park.
Wirtz told Arasteh and other engineers that he believes the higher road, berms, driveways and retention ponds to the west and north of his property prevent water from draining away from the park.
"His perception is water travels from his property north, and that is not the case," Arasteh said.
In fact, she said, the park sits in a closed drainage basin that would have flooded regardless of the new road. There's a similar basin on the west side of 41 that also reached 100-year flood stage, Arasteh said. During a Debby rain event, the water in those basins has nowhere to go except to percolate into the ground.
"There's nothing we can do about it," Arasteh said.
Arasteh notified Wirtz of the findings by phone on Thursday. The department has also offered to provide him with a copy of the report.
Wirtz said Thursday he wanted to withhold judgment until he sees the report, but it was clear that DOT had a lot of convincing to do.
"It might have been 100-year flood," Wirtz said, "but it wouldn't have flooded us if they hadn't raised the road."
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.