Local News

Lake Olivia dock still underwater for now

AVON PARK - It was constructed to give folks access to fishing or getting in and out of a boat or canoe, but the dock has become more suitable for fish than humans.

The approximately 40-yard, L-shaped treated wood dock at the Lake Olivia boat ramp was built in March 2012 and has spent most of the past six months unusable, parts of it submerged under four to eight inches underwater.

Settled in the middle of the Avon Park Lakes community, the 89-acre lake has a clay bottom, rather than sand, and water due to high rainfall isn't absorbed as quickly, leaving water covering most of the dock's length.

The high water hasn't ruined anyone's quality of life, but it has made using what was supposed to be a recreational amenity difficult -- and there's not much that can be done but wait for the waters to recede and drier weather to take over.

Highlands County officials contend the six-foot tall dock will eventually be usable again but aren't sure by when. They advise in its current submerged state, visitors should refrain from using it due to a coating of algae on the wood, making it slippery and unstable for those walking on it.

Clell Ford, Highlands County lakes manager, said the lake was built by county crews and funded by a grant from the Florida Freshwater Fish and Wildlife Commission.

He said in the summer of 2012,the water was between 111.5 and 112 feet above sea level; by October 2013, the water had risen to 116.8 feet, the elevation of the surface -- the highest it had been in the past five to 10 years.

According to data from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Ford said the lake was 113.5 feet in February 2013 and 113 feet for February 2014.

Ford said rainfall from May to September 2013 caused the lake to rise from 112.5 to 116 feet and overtook the dock.

He said yearly fluctuations in levels sometimes make it difficult to accurately build water amenities to the right heights every time.

"It was quite a bit this past year, we don't see that kind of rise usually, and now it's a bit underwater," he said. "But the lake is dropping and the wood is pressure treated and it will be OK."

During a warm Presidents' Day afternoon Monday, Pascual Trejo, Brianna Delky and Kyle Looney, all of Avon Park, stood on the boat ramp to fish. Pascual said he fished the lake about twice a month and the water, although still high, had receded.

"Last time, it was up to my knees on that dock. But you can still slip and fall on it, so you can't do much with it," he said.

Just to the west of Pascual, Joshua Willis bent over and primed the outboard motor on his center console fishing boat. With his girlfriend, Amber Green holding the wheel, he said the flooded dock causes problems for boaters who want to temporarily moor their boats.

"For small boats, it's an issue. There's just not a lot of places for us to go," he said.

The water is getting lower and should make the dock usable "soon," said Vicki Pontius, Highlands County Parks and Natural Resources director. She said county ground maintenance crews who mow the lake's circumference have noted the water has gone down three two four inches over the past three months, however, they haven't seen the lake as high as it is in 25 years.

"For the guys mowing the grass out there, there's a lot less work to do but that doesn't help the submerged boat dock," she said. "When it does dry, there shouldn't be any damage since it's pressure-treated."

According to the Avon Park Lakes Association, an old fishing dock was removed in 2008 and between 2009 and 2012, other Lake Olivia improvements were made, including three public boat ramps.


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