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Perennial problem laps at our ankles

George Goulette saved his home from flooding. All it took was a bucket, a fountain pump and some MacGyver thinking.

As water seeped onto the back porch of his Timber Oaks house, Goulette took the pump from his courtyard fountain, placed it in a bucket with holes in the bottom, and dropped the contraption into his flooded porch. The pump siphoned the water through the bucket and out the window.

Disaster averted.

While his porch is drying out, however, Goulette's house on San Bernardino Drive still is surrounded by rainwater. His wife wears fishing boots to wade to her car up the street, and the water could take weeks to drain away.

A quick fix for the house is one thing. A solution to the area's flooding problems is something else.

"Somehow they've got to alleviate that water from coming in our area," said Goulette, a 77-year-old retired police officer from Detroit, shaking his head.

With more than 150 flooding complaints in 25 areas, Pasco County is once again knee-deep in the flooding quagmire. At least 30 homes have water inside, and 86 others are surrounded by standing water.

County-operated pumps are offering relief in some areas, but officials admit it's a Band-Aid approach to a serious problem.

Solutions _ adding culverts, expanding drainage ponds or buying flood-prone properties _ can easily cost millions of dollars. The question is: How do you pay for it?

Officials have considered creating taxing districts for local drainage improvements a couple of times. County Administrator John Gallagher said he pitched the idea a decade ago to the residents in Bear Creek, the sprawling basin that includes Timber Oaks.

But popular support for the idea drained away as soon as the water did.

"People are interested when it's raining, but when clearer skies come out, they're not interested in paying," Gallagher said.

Commission chairman Peter Altman puts it another way: "It's sort of like a recurring illness. People are willing to do anything to get better when they're sick, but sometimes once we get better, we forget how bad it hurt."

The diagnosis and prescribed treatment of the county's drainage problems fills two 3-inch binders and comes with a $28.9-million price tag. At least that was the estimate in 1995, when consultant Camp Dresser & McKee finished the countywide drainage study. Costs have only gone up since then.

The county has tackled some of the projects, such as the $7-million Geiger Pond, a massive reservoir that keeps more than 200-million gallons of rainwater from washing into Betmar Acres and several other Zephyrhills mobile home parks.

But plenty of areas still need improvements. It will be up to the County Commission to decide how to tackle the projects and how to pay for them.

"The only real solution I see is using an MSTU (municipal service taxing unit) or some sort of special assessment on those drainage basins," Gallagher said.

Altman advocates a case-by-case approach: Start with the projects that can help the most people at a reasonable cost that residents can share. If it costs millions of dollars to improve the drainage for a handful of households, he said, it would be smarter to just buy out those flooded homeowners.

The county has had mixed results with that approach. It worked for Lost Lake near Zephyrhills, where 10 owners agreed to sell to the county after El Nino put their homes under water.

It hasn't worked for Bass Lake in New Port Richey. The county tried to buy out 22 flooded homeowners after heavy rains in the summer of 2003 pushed the lake into homes. Only six owners were interested.

"In order for it to be worth it to pull them out of there, they all need to go," said Michele Baker, the county's director of emergency management. "Otherwise we need to respond to their flooding complaints."

Now that the homes along Bass Lake are flooded even worse, the county will make another buyout offer, Baker said.

A more complicated solution is in the works for Magnolia Valley.

Water from surrounding neighborhoods drains into the Magnolia Valley golf course, which pumps to a series of culverts and ditches leading to the Gulf of Mexico. Someone fired a couple of rounds into the pump last weekend as the pumping flooded a mobile home park and several businesses downstream.

The elaborate pumping system predates the Southwest Florida Water Management District's stormwater permitting. But the agency might require the golf course to get a water use permit, which could limit the amount of water it could pump downstream, agency spokesman Michael Molligan said.

County officials also are looking at expanding the culverts and ditches downstream from the now-flooded Suncoast Gateway Mobile Village, said Bipin Parikh, the assistant county administrator for development services.

"That will only improve the situation in normal rainfall," Parikh said. "When you've got a situation where you've got 8 to 10 inches rain over 24 hours, Maggie Valley's going to pump like crazy, and that's definitely going to overwhelm the system downstream, even if you enlarge the culverts."

Some flooded residents are considering legal action. Others, like the residents around Frierson Lake in Hudson, are simply trying to get organized.

Once again, the overflowing Frierson Lake is pushing into yards and homes. Electric company crews shut off power last week to two soaked homes, and neighbors with pickup trucks offer the only rides in and out of the neighborhood.

Delbert King is trying to create a homeowners group. He figures the county will pay more attention to an organized group than a few scattered residents.

"They never do anything until it starts to get into people's homes," King said, sighing. "That needs to be addressed."

Bridget Hall Grumet covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is hallsptimes.com.

Under water again:

Flooded areas of Pasco County

1) Highlands/Thomas Boulevard. Low-lying areas are saturated and water is over parts of some roads. County set up pumps Sept. 15.

2) Rolling Oaks/Sherman Drive. Water surrounds several homes. County has been pumping since Sept. 9 to private retention pond on Oak Tree Drive, but someone has been turning off the pump. County has restarted pump and removed the key.

3) Houston Avenue/Great Cypress Mobile Home Park. Four inches of water cover low stretch of Houston, and stormwater drains are backing up into streets of mobile home park. County pumping to prevent road closure.

4) East Road area. Homes on Tyrone Street, Brutus Drive and Treehaven Drive are surrounded by water, but not flooded inside. Pumping isn't possible; one drainage pond owner hasn't returned county's calls and the other requested payment.

5) Dennis Drive. Low-lying areas that flooded in 1998 and 2003 are under water again. County pumping since Sept. 9.

6) Kitten Trail. Floodwaters rising around homes on Joshua Lane and Little Pete Court. No place to pump.

7) Hudson Avenue/Suave Lane. Water is four inches deep over road, but there's nowhere to pump it.

8) Hudson Avenue extension. This flooded road provides only access to Hudson Electric Plant. County is pumping.

9) Timber Oaks. Residents claim 100 homes were nearly flooded. Water drains from neighboring areas to low-lying spots in Timber Oaks. Two pumps are running.

10) Griffin Park. Mango Street is under a foot of water and homes are isolated, but none have floodwaters inside. No pumping planned.

11) Frierson Lake Drive. Several homes under water; electric company shut off power to two soaked homes; parts of West Road and Frierson Lake Drive impassable to cars. Some residents say widening of SR 52 made lake flooding worse. County is pumping at Frierson Lake and West Road.

12) Lakewood Acres. No homes flooded, although standing water is flooding wells and septic systems. County plans to pump.

13) Bass Lake/Scout Lake/Yellow Lake. All three lakes become one after heavy rains, and there's nowhere to pump. Several homes under water and some roads impassable. County seeking permits for floodgates to help high waters drain faster, but officials say preferred solution would be to buy up the flood-prone properties _ if the owners agree.

14) Magnolia Valley/Suncoast Gateway Mobile Home Village. Water from surrounding areas collects on Magnolia Valley golf course, which pumps it through ditches and culverts to Gulf of Mexico. The water is washing into businesses and flooding the mobile home parking lot downstream. County has three pumps near mobile home park pushing water out toward gulf. County and Swiftmud looking at long-term solutions, such as improving culverts or requiring golf course to get water use permit.

15) Sierra Pines. Some homeowners' yards are submerged, but county has nowhere to pump. A haul road may be holding back water. Neighboring property owners were cited last year for filling without permits.

16) Lake Linda Mobile Home Park. Residents want to pump into drainage ponds owned by state Department of Transportation but agency says no. There is no way to monitor downstream impact.

17) Ehren Cemetery Road. Homes are flooded along Liberty Lane. County began pumping Sept. 11.

18) Carpenter's Run. With Cypress Creek flooding at historic levels, Carpenter's Lake is overflowing and pushing into several homes. County pumping from Baker Road since Sept. 9.

19) Quail Hollow/Angus Valley. Several homes isolated by water, although emergency vehicles can still reach the area.

20) New River/Beverly Manor Estates. Up to five feet of water collected in neighborhood; residents point to overflowing retention ponds in New River Township and Aberdeen. County looking into pumping. Officials also are investigating the drainage systems and looking for any possible blockages or breaches along New River.

21) Southport Springs/Sandy Drive and Chancey Road. Rising river levels flooded area, forcing county to close Chancey Road on Sept. 10. County started pumping at Sandy Drive Sept. 11. Officials previously elevated Chancey Road and added culverts underneath, and Southport expanded its drainage pond, but neighboring property owners refused to grant easements to finish the drainage improvements.

22) Sunshine Road. City of Zephyrhills is pumping from Silver Oaks into ditches along Eiland Boulevard as conditions permit.

23) Hickory Hill Acres/Green Oak Lane. Water from Happy Hill Road flows under a culvert at SR 52, across Old San Antonio Road and Fort King Road, and ultimately into Hester and Tank lakes. A culvert under a railroad berm allows some water to continue downstream, but residents think culvert needs to be lowered or widened to allow better flow. County is pumping.

24) Lost Lake/Zephyr Oaks Court. This area historically floods, although officials say water is not high enough to be of concern at this time.

25) Otis Allen Road. Water rising around a couple of homes. County started pumping Sept. 14. One homeowner has agreed to sell property to county.

Source: Pasco County Office of Emergency Management; Times reporting.

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