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Homeowners seek help with flooding

James Barriger has waterfront property. Sometimes.

And he doesn't like it.

Barriger and seven neighbors pleaded with Pasco County commissioners last week for help fixing their potholed, flood-prone dirt road, Friar Tuck Trail.

At times, they said, summer storms have left pools of water so deep that the residents became virtual prisoners, unable to drive out of their dead-end road.

They presented a photo of people paddling a canoe this month across the road. Zephyrhills Fire Department Capt. Inspector Rex Guynn told commissioners that his department doesn't have vehicles to cross the deep puddles in an emergency.

Trying to get home after a storm is an adventure, James Barriger said.

"You've just got to cross your fingers and step on the gas," he said.

Ann Shoults said because her property borders an area of bad flooding, she lets neighbors drive across her lawn to get around.

"There are children who need to get to the end of the road to get their bus," Barriger's wife, Laurie, told commissioners. "How are they supposed to walk there? They can't walk through this. It's past my knees."

The group told commissioners they've tried to fix the road themselves, dumping eight loads of soil and some crushed gravel, and even using a tractor, but without success.

After every storm, the road gets worse, James Barriger said. And with another wet El Nino winter on the way, neighbors are worried. El Nino is a weather condition created every four or five years by abnormally warm water in the Pacific Ocean. It twists global weather patterns, spreading rain across Florida during the traditionally dry winter months. Scientists say a new El Nino is forming.

In the 1998 El Nino, flooding at Zephyr Oaks Court, 2 miles from Friar Tuck Trail, swamped nine homes in an area that had been a dry lakebed for decades.

Michele Baker, director of Pasco's Office of Emergency Management, said there is no predicting where the heaviest rains will fall or which areas will flood.

But homeowners can be ready. Baker said anyone who lives in a low area should buy flood insurance now. Policies usually carry a 30-day waiting period. When flood waters are lapping at the door, it's too late to buy insurance, she said.

County Commissioners agreed last week to have the road looked at by a county crew and come back with what it might cost to alleviate the problems temporarily.

But if the county doesn't own the road, it cannot be held responsible financially, Commissioner Ted Schrader said.

At the July 16 meeting, the neighbors looking for help didn't know who owned the road. James Barriger later took to the Internet to track down the answer.

Pasco County Property Appraiser records show the road listed as county-owned, but Bipin Parikh, assistant county administrator over development services, said it's not that easy. The original developer never turned the road over to a homeowners' association and never paid taxes, so it was listed under the county's name. But the county doesn't really own it.

Parikh said someone has to pay the back taxes, about $700, then deed it over to the county. Parikh said homeowners might be allowed to pool their money and pay the taxes, but he needed to consult with County Administrator John Gallagher and possibly a county attorney before he could say whether that would solve the problem.

Homeowners might still have to come up with more money to pave the road, he said.

As it stands, Parikh said, it will cost nearly $9,000 just to fix the 1,100-foot-long road temporarily. For that kind of spending, the issue might land back before county commissioners.

"People don't realize, they might see a house in the winter, the weather is nice. When the rainy season comes, it's terrible," Parikh said. "I have heard some horror stories."

James Barriger said he and his wife had no idea it would be so bad when they bought their home last year.

"Nobody told us," he said. "It was a surprise."