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If it rains, it floods some of Lake Padgett

Past sins have caught up with Lake Padgett Estates.

The subdivision, built by DeCarr D. Covington Jr. on old orange groves in the heart of Land O'Lakes, is a mixed bag of about 1,000 old and new homes.

Its first homes were designed before Pasco County required developers to provide long-range plans for major projects.

Before the state Legislature created the Growth Management Act.

Before federal health regulations required mounded septic tanks.

The result: Homes built after the stricter rules went into effect are on higher ground. So, some lowlanders get swamped with runoff from their upland neighbors during heavy rains.

In 1985, Betty and Tom Buckman moved into a 17-year-old house on Lake Saxon Drive, next to a vacant lot. When someone built a home on the empty lot, Mrs. Buckman said, runoff regularly flooded their garage.

"All that runoff came onto us," she recalled. "We dug a trench to the lake from the front yard. That helped some."

A few years ago, the Buckmans moved into a bigger, newer home on higher ground on Brownwood Court.

Then, in 1991, the county resurfaced Lake Padgett's roads. Then, some residents say, the flooding got worse.

"Ask just about anybody around here and they'll tell you," South Shore Drive resident Bill Johnson said, "it wasn't this bad before the county did the roads."

Denise Hickman, who also lives on South Shore, said runoff once flooded her living room. She now has a sump pump in a small fenced pit by her front porch to bail water from her property.

"It's either stop it here or it's in the house," she said. "It wasn't like this before they fixed the roads."

The problem, residents told county officials at a September meeting, is that the old road used to be angled so it would carry water into swales and culverts.

A variety of contractors built Lake Padgett houses and roads, and whether a home had adequate drainage often depended on the whim of the owner.

The new road was "crowned": It peaks in the middle so that water flows to either side.

So, lowland homes without ditches take the hit. In many cases, the culverts and swales have either collapsed or become clogged with grass and debris, which renders them virtually useless.

Dale Lester, who has lived in Lake Padgett for nine years, blames the county for the flooding problem.

"I don't think the streets had anything to do with the flooding," Lester said. "It's just the fact that the county hasn't maintained the drainage. The county just plain doesn't control what's going on out here."

When county commissioners approved the road improvement program, which would be paid for by residents, they considered alternate plans that would have upgraded Lake Padgett's inadequate drainage system.

But, records show, commissioners opted only to improve the 13 miles of roads in the subdivision.

Lake Padgett residents at the time didn't want to spend the extra $300 annual assessment, county engineer Bipin Parikh said.

"I would have paid that," said Mrs. Buckman, president of Lake Padgett Estates Civic Association.

The elevation problem stems from the fact that Lake Padgett is one of several central Pasco neighborhoods still on septic systems. Each tank at a new house must be above ground, under a huge mound of dirt that Mrs. Buckman jokingly calls "King Kong's grave."

Most flooding problems are limited to South Shore, Stillwood, Lake Breeze and Coldstream.

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Sharon Molnar, a real estate broker, has lived and sold homes in Lake Padgett Estates for 23 years.

She seemed surprised when a Times reporter asked her about widespread flooding problems in the subdivision.

"I hadn't heard it was that bad," said Molnar, who lives on Lake Joyce.

But, considering how regulations have changed over the years, Molnar could understand how such problems might arise.

She said she thinks state and federal regulations might be too meddlesome, causing friction between neighbors, high and low.

When owners put a Lake Padgett home on the market, they're supposed to disclose problems such as structural faults and flooding, Molnar said.

"Our emphasis is on disclosure," she said. "When I'm showing a house, I always think of that person as a potential friend and neighbor. I live here. It's not like I live 10 miles away and I'll never see them again. So I want to make sure everything's right."

Older houses have underground septic fields, some of which become flooded after torrential rains, Johnson said.

Few residents complain to the county about that, he said, because they already know the county's answer: Install a septic system that meets current standards.

"If you suffer a problem because of their standards, that's your tough luck," Johnson said, irritated. "I take exception to that. We're caught between a rock and a hard place.

"But I say if you start a big steel ball rolling down the road, whatever it hits at the end should be your responsibility."

About 300 homes in Lake Padgett Estates are thought to be affected, Mrs. Buckman said. Neither she nor county officials have an exact number.

"Some people are afraid to come forward because they don't want the county to know about it," Mrs. Buckman said.

County officials are expected to meet soon with Lake Padgett residents to discuss at least improved maintenance of culverts. In recent weeks, residents say, the public works department has mowed some of the ditches.

Joellyn Miller, the county's chief stormwater management engineer, is preparing a report about the Lake Padgett situation for County Commission consideration. She expects to finish it this month.

"It's a very large problem," she said.

The county needs easement rights to fix damaged culverts, Miller said. The board will have to decide whether to absorb the cost or try to share it with Lake Padgett residents.

No matter how this matter is resolved, it appears unlikely that a long-term solution is imminent.

Lake Padgett Estates is about 90 percent built-out, Molnar said. The few vacant lots remaining, which act as watersheds, are being developed.

Any significant improvement would require new retention ponds and revamped ditches, swales and culverts, Miller said, and there seems to be no room for a retrofit in Lake Padgett.