BROOKSVILLE — For years, Etta Mae Hicks has enjoyed her home in a quiet, well-established neighborhood south of town and just west of U.S. 41. But in recent years, any heavy rainfall steals the peace and replaces it with worry and inconvenience.
The waters of last week's tropical storm, for instance, had not yet receded Monday where Hicks and others live south of Barnett Road, behind the Brooksville Super Wal-Mart.
After years of frustration as their complaints went unheeded, hope waded in wearing rubber boots on Monday morning.
County Administrator David Hamilton, at the invitation of County Commissioner Diane Rowden, sloshed through the standing water to talk to Hicks and her waterlogged neighbors.
Hamilton vowed to get the water out of the area and find a long-term solution to bring peace and order back to the area.
"I pray to God that they do," Hicks said.
Hamilton acted immediately.
While on site and ankle-deep in water, he called the county's Department of Public Works. "The question is not if, but how," he said into his cell phone. "I don't want to hear about territory or boundaries."
Hamilton ordered public works to do whatever it needed to do. By Monday afternoon, county workers were setting up pipes and a pump to draw down the water and divert it into a nearby lake.
The work will close Barnett Road for the next few days to all but local traffic, according to Gregg Sutton, assistant county engineer.
The water creeps around and sometimes into homes in the neighborhood.
It runs down the roadways and forces residents to wade to get into and out of their homes.
The water also undermines the roads, causing large potholes that damage vehicles.
Rowden explained that the residents have already seen serious problems affecting their safety due to high water in the past.
One man had a heart attack during a flood and the ambulance got stuck in the water trying to get to him. He later died.
"People don't need to be living like this," she said.
"It was the first time I've been in that particular area of the county, and it was disturbing to see that amount of residual water," Hamilton said later. "It's not only a safety concern but a public health concern."
He said the plan was to get rid of the water that is on site and then regroup with public works and do a hydrology study to find out how to create a long-term solution that can be added to the county's capital improvement plan.
"There is no ditching there whatsoever except for what the water creates," Hamilton said.
Sutton said it could take several days to pump the water away from the homes.
While some residents blame the flooding on the Wal-Mart, Sutton said that another property west of the superstore was filled in when U.S. 41 was improved several years ago.
That fill went in to cover up an old sinkhole where excess water had drained for years, he said.
Hamilton isn't concerned about what caused the original problem.
"Who is to blame is not as important as who has responsibility, and the county has the responsibility here," Hamilton said. "We're responsible for public health and safety issues."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.