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Buyout option draws anger

Subdivision spokesman Sonny Groves has clamored for public assistance since the Withlacoochee River began overrunning his neighborhood several months ago.

But he's been just as firm on another point: Arrowhead residents will not be bought out and relocated by governmental agencies concerned about people living in a flood plain.

So he left a Tuesday meeting with Swiftmud officials extremely miffed that the agency, already accused by many Arrowhead residents of mismanaging the crisis, suggested a buyout plan as an option.

Although Swiftmud officials denied the accusations, Groves said Wednesday that the district wants to buy properties in the subdivision and asked him to broach the subject with neighbors.

David Moore, deputy executive director of resource management at Swiftmud, acknowledged the district is worried about future floods in the area, particularly since the recent rains added up to only a 10-year flood event. But officials felt obligated to raise those concerns and possible solutions, he said.

"There was absolutely no quote-unquote pitch," Moore said. "We talked about how do we possibly solve this problem in both the short term and long term. As part of this discussion, we talked to him about the possibility of people raising the roads, the houses, the septic tanks and the private wells. We also explored, "Do you think anybody would be interested in a buyout type program?'

"We were exploring what the desires were of the people out there. You never want to rule anything out. We'll do anyting to help him and the residents out in Arrowhead."

Groves, who spoke with the Citrus Times on Wednesday, could not be reached later to respond to Moore's comments.

Relocation is considered one of many flood mitigation measures, said Lynne Keating, spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has distributed hundreds of thousands of flood assistance dollars to residents of Citrus and surrounding counties.

"First of all, it's important for people to understand that the big-term mitigation, which is doing things to retrofit and rebuild with a prevention mode, is a big part of FEMA," she said. "Because there are properties that are at high risk in a high-risk area, part of the mitigation program is to hopefully have people relocated. Part of the hazard mitigation program includes a buyout program."

But it's up to the state Department of Community Affairs, in coordination with local communities, to decide which mitigation measures are put in place, she said.

DCA officials could not be reached for comment.

Swiftmud never has undertaken a buyout program, Moore said. Under circumstances without public opposition, the Arrowhead area would be an ideal candidate because of its location and proximity to the 8,500-acre Potts Preserve, which the district recently purchased.

That seems unlikely, judging by Groves' reaction. However, without changes, more tough times could be in store for Arrowhead residents, Moore warned.

"What concerns us is in 1960, the water got 3 feet higher (than this year)," he said. "From 1935 to 1960, the river was as high as it was or higher than it was now. We've had unusually dry weathersince 1960 in central Florida. This type of flooding or worse could be occurring on a higher level in the future.

"I think Sonny Grove's response to this was, "That's what if.' "

Swiftmud never has undertaken a buyout program, Moore said.