Local News

Mobile homes, roadways flooded in south Highlands County

LAKE PLACID - Rain is good, until there's too much, and two water district rain gauges have recorded more than 26 inches of rain in the past 50 days. That's more than normally falls in six months.
"Our entire lot has been flooded since June 12," said Nancy Haverkamp, who moved from Ohio six years ago to Sunshine RV Resort, south of Lake Placid. On June 30, after several inches of rain, water filled her double-wide mobile lot, the driveway and her end of Pryor Lane.
"It was also up over the bottom two steps going into our home in the screened in room," Haverkamp said. "We had to evacuate our home on July 1." She and her husband have been staying in a friend's winter house.
Sunshine park manager Mary Beth Humes said fewer than a dozen homes have been affected on three streets and two cross-streets in the southeast corner of the park.
"The owners of the park put two small sump pumps in our yard, but they have not done any good," Haverkamp said.
Southwest Florida Water Management District allows the resort to pump water into stormwater management ponds on Glades Electric property, but only until it reaches flags on the Glades side.
"They only pump a few hours a day," said Audrey Collar, whose single-wide is currently on dry land two houses west of Haverkamp's, "and then it rains and it fills right back up again."
"I hate to hear it thunder," Haverkamp said.
Water district staff is monitoring the pumping to ensure that properties southwest of Sunshine RV aren't being flooded by the pumping, said Public Information Officer Susanna Martinez Tarokh. She has also received flooding complaints from Ekhoff Lane residents located on the north side of SR 70. Portions of this roadway are also flooded.
"This area of Highlands County has not been ditched and drained," Tarokh said, "so the water levels in these depressions are significantly affected by the amount of rainfall."
Haverkamp has been pleading with officeholders for days. "We called U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's office last Friday and were told this problem is a state issue."
State Sen. Bill Galvano's office and Highlands County have said it's a private property issue, and the only way Florida or Highlands could help is if the governor declared an emergency.
"Doesn't people losing their homes and having to evacuate constitute an emergency?" Haverkamp asked. "In the meantime, several homes have been flooded."
None of the homes are flooded inside, noted County Public Information Officer Gloria Rybinski and County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete, so the dollar level needed to declare a county emergency likely has not been reached.
Affected residents have offered the opportunity to relocate to the front of the resort, Humes said.
Both Collar and Haverkamp said they can't afford to move their homes, where they've built driveways, patios and Florida rooms.
"We have had to go back to our house to get more medicine and clothes," Haverkamp said, "My husband has to wear knee-high boots to walk through 18 inches of water just to get to our driveway."
Gavarrete was at Sunshine RV Resort on Monday. "The roads are not county maintained. I've been in communications with Southwest Florida Water Management District. They've authorized the owners to pump eastward, but that's limited because you are flooding the person's property who you are pumping into. That's the extent of what we can do as a county," Gavarrete said.
Flooding is also occurring on the west side of State Road 70, but it's not as severe, Gavarrete said. About seven years ago, the county built up Old State Road 8 near Toni Drive.
"I'm not going to say we solved that problem, but it seems to be working at this time," Gavarrete said.
Topographically, the portion of the park where Haverkamp and Collar live is in a bowl, Gavarrete said. "They are at the low end."
Meanwhile, Humes, the owners are working with SWFWMD on a more permanent solution, a way to channel the water into a park-owned holding pond.
The Red Cross is assisting residents on the north side of Lake Placid. One family is living in a hotel, and food has been provided to another family which can't get out of the house, said Erin Pagán, director of Communications.