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Officials hope projects will reduce flooding in Tarpon Woods

A Jeep and a car splash along Tarpon Woods Boulevard on July 20, 2004, after a downpour. “High water” signs decorated many streets in Tarpon Woods, along with an alligator that had trouble distinguishing the road from a pond.

Times (2004)

A Jeep and a car splash along Tarpon Woods Boulevard on July 20, 2004, after a downpour. “High water” signs decorated many streets in Tarpon Woods, along with an alligator that had trouble distinguishing the road from a pond.

EAST LAKE — After years of stormwater rising faster than solutions, Tarpon Woods residents can finally expect some relief from flooding.

An upcoming project won't eliminate all standing water after a rainstorm, but officials say it'll reduce the number of incidents where pools of water block access to homes.

The county will complete a new drainage system to speed the flow of water out of the neighborhood, which is in northeast Pinellas, east of Lake Tarpon. That project is budgeted for 2012-13 and will result in neighborhood streets also being repaved.

A new valve to prevent backups from a local pond also has gone in this year. The county and the Southwest Florida Water Management District split the $2 million cost.

Essentially, the improvements should ensure that the neighborhood's drainage system will meet the county's standard: flooding in only a once-in-10-year storm, said Pete Yauch, director of transportation and stormwater for Pinellas County.

However, the county won't be doing what officials said might help more than any other single project: clearing debris and silt from Brooker Creek.

When it rains hard, water overflows from the creek and ponds in the neighborhood, even shutting down the golf course in Tarpon Woods until the water recedes.

"You can do all these other things, but if you don't clean that out and let the water flow as it should, it won't totally negate it, but it won't really help as much as it should," said Ray Jacobs, president of the Tarpon Woods Action Committee that's pressing for help.

Previous owners of the golf course resisted giving the county permission to work on the course where the creek crosses it, fearing the temporary closure of the course would permanently harm business. While new operators are taking over, the county designed the drainage project around the course to avoid any issues.

The county also had worried about whether it could get federal and state permits for the work, and about creating recurring costs to periodically clean the creek.

"These already funded projects should help the standing stormwater evacuate faster from the neighborhoods and will not require any access to the golf course," said Don Ewing, president of the Council of North County Neighborhoods, in an email to the Times.

Tarpon Woods residents complained about the flooding for years. After storms, water would rise 10 inches at the crest of streets.

Ewing, a resident since 1997, said he lived there all of two months before the first big flood came, one of the worst in neighbors' memories. While the bad storms are unusual, he said they can leave water lapping at the floorboards of cars. Sometimes people park on other, dry streets and walk to their homes.

"I'm pretty optimistic that this is a good solution," Ewing said of the projects.

Five years ago, the county tried to get $4 million from the state to buy the golf course, hoping to use all or part of it for stormwater storage. But lawmakers recoiled, and some residents worried their property values would plummet. A consultant found the idea wasn't feasible, anyway.

An engineering study in 2008 recommended tens of millions of dollars in improvements, but the proposals required access to the golf course. At one point, draining flood waters to Brooker Creek was discussed and panned.

The flooding of Tarpon Woods has been caused by "a multitude of problems," said Jacobs. "First of all, this entire area was wetlands, and probably shouldn't have been built on in the first place."

Officials hope projects will reduce flooding in Tarpon Woods 04/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 6:33pm]
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