Friday, December 15, 2017
News Roundup

Spurred by Tropical Storm Debby, drainage and roadwork projects continue

Forecasters predict a busy 2013 hurricane season, and that could be enough to send chills up the spine of anyone who felt the fury of Tropical Storm Debby 11 months ago.

Record rains flooded homes and closed major thoroughfares, including portions of Spring Hill Drive, the Suncoast Parkway and Mariner Boulevard.

Even as the storm's final raindrops fell and phones rang off the hook at the county's public works office, state and local officials began to assess, design and construct road and drainage improvements that could reduce or alleviate flooding in any future storm.

With hurricane season having started Saturday, some of the work has been completed. Other projects are on the drawing board and will be finished as plans are finalized and funding becomes available.

"We've got good plans for the future,'' said Brian Malmberg, the assistant county administrator for operations. "We just have to keep on picking them off one at a time.''

• • •

Some of the most indelible images from Debby's deluge are aerial photos of a flooded Suncoast Parkway.

The rainfall and ensuing runoff from neighboring property swamped all four lanes of the toll road just south of U.S. 98 in northern Hernando County. At one point, the water over the northbound lanes was at least 5 feet deep.

Massive pumps were brought in to draw water from an overwhelmed retention basin adjacent to the roadway and the Suncoast Trail. The southbound lanes of the highway, which serves as a hurricane evacuation route, reopened July 4; the northbound lanes opened the next day, 10 days after the storm slogged through the region.

Officials from Florida's Turnpike Enterprise said the road and its drainage structures worked as designed to handle a 100-year storm event. The problem: Debby's rainfall exceeded what's expected in such a storm. Officials announced plans to expand the retention basin, but said raising the roadway would have to wait.

That plan has changed. The basin expansion and roadway elevation have been incorporated into a project to resurface the parkway from State Road 50 to U.S. 98 that is under way.

"Since (the enterprise) was already wrapping up engineering and design for the pond work and paving operation, it was an opportune time to go ahead and add raising the roadway profile to the same contract," said enterprise spokeswoman Christa Deason. "The added benefit is that in the unlikely event of another rain occurrence as significant as Debby, parkway operations and trail access will not be affected."

Crews will be working on the $11.3 million project during heart of hurricane season, though. The pond and road elevation will be finished by September, Deason said. The rest of the work will end next spring.

A similar strategy is in the works to help one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by Debby.

About a dozen mobile homes in the Imperial Estates mobile home park, which sits near the northeast corner of U.S. 41 and Powell Road, south of Brooksville, were damaged by flooding. Several were declared total losses.

The owners of the park insisted that the project to widen U.S. 41 in 2000 caused the water to rise so high. Florida Department of Transportation officials dispute that claim, saying Debby's rainfall exceeded the 100-year storm for which the widening project was designed and permitted.

But that doesn't mean improvements can't be made to help the neighborhood, DOT officials say.

Next year, crews will install pipes under U.S. 41 and excavate an area on the west side of the road about a half-mile north of Powell Road to create more storage capacity for floodwater, said Megan Arasteh, a district drainage engineer for the department.

"That most likely will provide relief to Imperial Estates for storm events higher than the 100-year," Arasteh said.

The improvements have been added to a project already in the design phase to resurface about a 1.5-mile stretch of the highway between Powell and Pine Cabin roads. The total estimated cost is between $3 million and $4 million. Construction will begin in the fall of 2014.

• • •

Recently Malmberg, the assistant county administrator, presented the County Commission with a five-year plan for transportation improvements, and one piece of that was a map showing the locations of more than a dozen planned storm water management projects.

Months earlier, Malmberg had been working from a map that depicted all of the complaints from residents regarding issues with Debby.

Not coincidentally, many of the dots overlap. Nearly all of the county storm water projects planned for the next five years are designed to fix drainage issues that became apparent during Debby.

County crews have been in repair mode ever since, replacing culverts, increasing the capacity of retention ponds and studying other ways to divert water to keep neighborhoods and roadways higher and drier.

A preliminary study of Powell Road, which flooded east and west of U.S. 41, is under way to determine how to mitigate future flooding, especially west of U.S. 41, Malmberg said.

"The long-term fix is probably associated with major roadwork,'' he said.

But simply raising the road could aggravate storm water issues for property owners on either side of the road, he said.

Elsewhere, ground breaking for Phase 1 of a major storm water project to help drain south Brooksville is coming in the next several weeks. Work to build a large retention pond will soon begin on a parcel across from the county Transportation Services office on E Jefferson Street, near the Sheriff's Office community center.

When work on that pond and three others scattered around south Brooksville is completed, many of the neighborhood's drainage issues will be resolved, Malmberg said.

Parts of Dogwood Estates, near Brooksville Country Club at Majestic Oaks, flooded in the storm, and an outside engineer is designing fixes for that area, including the expansion of a retention pond and raising a road. The improvements should be done by the 2014 storm season.

Other improvements are slated to be addressed in the 2017-18 fiscal year, according to the five-year plan. Malmberg said improvements are put on the schedule to allow his staff to organize its work and look for funding.

While the county collects a storm water tax from property owners, officials try to use that money in conjunction with other funds, such as grants from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The FEMA help alone accounts for hundreds of thousands of dollars for storm-related fixes, Malmberg said.

While he said the county wants to fix as many of the problems as possible, not everything made the list.

The major flood in front of the Hernando County Detention Center, which submerged cars on Spring Hill Drive, is not on the schedule. A fix would be a major undertaking, and, as the county discovered a few days into the road closure last year, using a pump to dump the water on adjacent airport property alleviated the problem, Malmberg said.

Neighborhoods like the low-lying areas around Quarterhorse Lane, southwest of Brooksville, where some residents had to evacuate during Debby, are simply out of luck.

"It's a bowl,'' Malmberg said. "There's nothing we can do.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434. Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.

Comments
Missing Child Alert issued for Port St. Lucie girl, 17

Missing Child Alert issued for Port St. Lucie girl, 17

A Florida Missing Child Alert has been issued for a 17-year-old Port St. Lucie girl who was last seen on Thursday.Heaven Flores was last seen near the 1400 block of SW Cashmere Boulevard in Port St. Lucie, according to the Florida Department of Law E...
Updated: 18 minutes ago

Bicyclist killed in Seminole Heights crash; portion of E Hillsborough Avenue closed

TAMPA — A bicyclist was killed early Friday morning in a crash in Seminole Heights.Tampa Police say the bicyclist was struck by a car just after 12:15 a.m.Eastbound E Hillsborough Avenue is closed from N Florida Avenue to N Central Avenue while polic...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Focus on free speech in colleges; Rays trades may still be coming; Katy Perry tonight in Tampa; remembering ‘The Fight Doctor’

The Daystarter: Focus on free speech in colleges; Rays trades may still be coming; Katy Perry tonight in Tampa; remembering ‘The Fight Doctor’

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• A stray shower is possible today as another cold front moves through, according to 10Weather WTSP. Luckily, the front only depresses temperatures into the lower 70s. The week...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, under construction since 2015, is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2019.The five-story, 137,100-square-foot building will house businessman and collector Rudy Ciccarello’s...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Ybor City remembers Ferdie Pacheco, a true ‘Tampaiño’

Ybor City remembers Ferdie Pacheco, a true ‘Tampaiño’

TAMPA — The speakers at Dr. Ferdie Pacheco’s memorial on Thursday evening were asked to keep their remarks to under 10 minutes, and to refrain from using profanity.They all thought that was pretty funny, of course."Like Ferdie ever spoke for less tha...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Howard Altman: Military-themed gifts for your holiday shopping needs

Howard Altman: Military-themed gifts for your holiday shopping needs

The season of giving is upon us, so here’s a selection of military-themed gifts for the folks on your Christmas and Hannukah lists.Drink up: American Freedom Distillery is a veteran-owned maker of artisan whiskeys, rums, vodkas and gins located in St...
Published: 12/15/17
Gain time: For many lifers sentenced as juveniles, it means they’ve done their time

Gain time: For many lifers sentenced as juveniles, it means they’ve done their time

When she was 15, Chantay Clark shot and killed a woman while trying to steal a car. Later, she took a man’s truck at gunpoint, forcing him to take cover inside a drain pipe.Circuit Judge Michael Andrews knew all about her.On Nov. 3, she stood shackle...
Published: 12/15/17
Clearwater down to two finalists for CRA director

Clearwater down to two finalists for CRA director

CLEARWATER — The next Community Redevelopment Agency director who will be tasked with trying to revive the long-struggling downtown has come down to two women, narrowed from a pool of 40 applicants. Emily A. Colon, 31, a Pasco County budget analyst a...
Published: 12/15/17
Lightning routs Coyotes for sixth straight win

Lightning routs Coyotes for sixth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. — As much as the Lightning has been rolling, it remembered how it lost twice last season to the Coyotes.That included blowing a one-goal third-period lead at home down the stretch, with Tampa Bay missing the playoffs by a point."You l...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Stephan Jiggetts’ 20 points lead USF basketball over Bethune-Cookman

Stephan Jiggetts’ 20 points lead USF basketball over Bethune-Cookman

TAMPA — USF used a 21-3 run midway through the second half en route to an 83-63 win over Bethune-Cookman on Thursday night before an announced 2,091 at the Sun Dome.The victory halted a four-game losing streak for the Bulls (5-6), who scored the last...
Updated: 8 hours ago