There appears to have been some miscommunication between Sonny Groves, spokesman for the residents of Arrowhead subdivision, and officials from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, also known as Swiftmud.
Groves says that during a meeting recently, Swiftmud officials asked him if he and other Arrowhead residents would consider selling their land on the Withlacoochee River as part of a government buyout plan. Swiftmud acknowledges that the possibility was mentioned, but only as one of several options broached as the agency tried to discern what it could do to help Arrowhead.
While Groves is steadfastly against Swiftmud or any other government agency buying the land in Arrowhead, he should not overreact to such a suggestion. Moreover, he and other residents should not reject the idea out of hand. There may be merit to the idea that would benefit Arrowhead landowners as well as the majority of Citrus County residents.
Arrowhead floods often. This year's flooding, produced by record-setting winter rains, was devastating. Roads were impassable and homes were inhabitable. The threat to residents' safety was real and imminent. The county declared a state of emergency. Ironically, even after that declaration, the county was slow to provide the manpower, equipment and money needed to fully alleviate the crisis. Commissioners worried that spending public money to repair privately owned roads would be improper. Not until commissioners received the counsel of state Attorney General Robert Butterworth did they finally answer Arrowhead residents' calls for help.
But even though the law says the commission must lend such aid in an emergency, it still does not set well with residents elsewhere in the county who complain about their tax dollars going to subsidize, perhaps repeatedly, people who have assumed the irrational risk of living in a flood-prone area.
This area of the Withlacoochee River is bound to flood again. In fact, this year's flood wasn't even the worst on record; in 1960, it was 3 feet higher. When the next flood comes, Arrowhead residents who are lucky enough to not be injured or killed during the disaster no doubt will plead to the county for help again. Because Arrowhead residents seem content to rely on others to solve their problems when such predictable catastrophes strike, it is fair not only for other taxpayers to question the practice, but the responsibility of commissioners, and perhaps other government agencies, to do the same.
Swiftmud's interest in the property may go beyond being helpful to Arrowhead residents. The district recently purchased about 8,500 acres nearby and the Arrowhead land would complement that acquisition. However, Swiftmud has never undertaken a buyout program, so it is doubtful this would be its first venture into that arena, especially knowing that there is opposition from residents.
But Swiftmud's motivation _ if there is one _ for buying out Arrowhead residents is not germane to the bigger debate, which should be handled at the local level.
Arrowhead residents must work with the county, Swiftmud, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state Department of Community Affairs to find solutions to the problems that are waiting to happen in Arrowhead. If residents are going to continue to live in a place where the risk of a flood is extremely great, then their houses and roads need to be elevated, as do their water wells and septic tanks. Those who are not willing to invest in such obvious needs are being reckless as well as inconsiderate to all Citrus County residents who pay the price for Arrowhead residents' poor choices.
A government land-grab is not an appealing alternative, but should not be ruled out. For those Arrowhead residents who are unwilling to assume responsibility for the risk they are taking, it one day may turn out to be their best option.