As the hurricane season approaches, flood problems are intensifying

DIANA M. MOORE Carol Kent UYAT

Hurricane season is fast approaching, and residents of southern Washington County are concerned about what this could mean for an already permanently flooded area.

Residents around Pine Ridge Drive, Rolling Pines Road, Childress Lane and Radcliffe Circle have been facing floods since 2019, forcing some to opt for the ransom program offered by the county.

The county is working to help residents, in particular through $ 6 million in FEMA flood relief grants, allowing the county to purchase qualified real estate for their cost before the hurricane. These facilities will then be converted into permanent greenery.

However, one resident is on a mission to find other solutions to the flood problems that cover her community.

Radcliffe Circle resident Jennifer Stedman was disappointed with what she said was slow progress and a response to the problem from agencies on which the community depends on help.

The county began pumping water from the area last December and successfully reduced the level by 10-12 inches. However, in February the pumping stopped due to the completion of funds.

“When they turned off the pumps, they turned off our hope,” Stedman said.

Residents in the area say the problem only got worse after Hurricane Michael, and some say it has gotten worse with the number of trees cut down in recent years in the Northwest Florida Water District (NWFMD).

“Water management has cut thousands of acres and continues to cut thousands of acres every year,” resident David Rich said at a community meeting held last fall. “Maybe look at the moratorium on tree felling until we find out what is causing all these huge floods.”

Hurricane Michael left many fallen trees in waterways in Washington and Bay counties that have not been cleared due to lack of funding. According to County Administrator Jeff Messi, this could be one of the many reasons water continues in the area.

“We cannot say with absolute certainty why the water is delayed in the area, especially in the areas of the Spring Pond and the Pine Ridge,” he said. “We know that the aquifer is full, which does not allow water to seep through the sand, as would be natural. As soon as the level of the aquifer drops, the water will also start to sink by itself. “

Messi says the county is constantly looking for new sources to help bear the cost of pumping and clearing garbage.

“We continue to look for sources of funding to clean up the trash left by Michael,” he said. “The county has applied for a second round of funding from FEMA, and it has been sitting in Washington for the past 160 days. The funding we received in the first round was simply not enough to cover the entire county. ”

Earlier this month, the County Council of Commissioners voted to apply to the Florida Resilient for a vulnerability planning grant. The grant will pay for flood relief research across the county. Other mitigation grant opportunities through Resilient Florida also apply when they become available.

Laura Dhu with the Florida Department of Emergency and Dr. Wesley Brooks, Florida’s chief director for sustainability, also visited the flooded areas to get a first-hand look at the plight of residents.

Messi says he hopes the county will be able to find a way to lower the water level enough so that the hurricane season is not as harmful as it could be.

“We as a county are closely monitoring the area,” he said. “The water dropped significantly at Rolling Pines and Radcliffe-Circle by two and a half feet, but Pine Ridge didn’t go down. We continue to work on behalf of these residents, but at the moment we are committed to the state and the aquifer. I hope and pray that the hurricane season will not bring another big storm. “

Stedman says hurricane season puts residents in awe, but much of the worry could be alleviated through greater communication and clarity from county officials.

“I believe that informing residents about what is being done to rectify our situation will help us not to be so concerned,” she said. “Additional information, even if it shows us the planning stages, would help allay our fears. Words are no longer enough; we need to see what is being done. “

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