A 12-acre public pond has been dredged and is now behind the walls of a subdivision of million-dollar homes in a posh development partly owned by golfer Arnold Palmer, state officials say. The entrance to the property in the Butler Chain of Lakes is also on state-owned land, officials of the state Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday.
The DER is investigating the private development, called Isleworth, for taking the tip of Lake Down and an hourglass-shaped pond.
State and court records show that Isleworth filled and built part of its entrance and guard station on a parcel of land that was part of Lake Down. The pond, part of Lake Butler, was dredged and landscaped into a water hazard for the golf course.
The state lays claim to all lake and river bottoms and other lands that usually are under water.
Isleworth could be forced to give up the land and face thousands of dollars in fines if the DER determines the development willingly took it, said DER spokesman Randy Lewis in Tallahassee. The state has levied fines of up to $100,000 for taking public land.
"The state is not in the habit of giving up state land for private use," Lewis said.
Eric Miller, a former project manager for Isleworth, said in a deposition that Palmer requested that the hourglass pond be cleaned.
Palmer designed the golf course and asked engineers to dig out and clear the pond because weeds growing around it were ugly, according to the deposition. But engineers never told Palmer the land was state-owned.
Charges that Isleworth built on public land started with about 12 Windermere residents who are suing the development. They believe Isleworth built a faulty stormwater runoff system that led to the flooding of their yards on Lake Bessie.
Isleworth attorney Bill Doster said it would cooperate with the state investigation but he declined further comment.