'Roads Have Turned Into Rivers' In Port Richey
PORT RICHEY - The rain started falling heavily Saturday night, and by morning the water had surrounded Deborah Parker's double-wide on Afton Lane. By Thursday, the water had engulfed the lift station for her septic tank and was getting dangerously close to inundating the home she has lived in for more than two decades. "This is the worst it's been in years," Parker said. "My house is almost underwater." A few streets over, at Suncoast Gateway Mobile Home Village, residents have watched water levels rise in the past week; frequent rainstorms are adding to the problem."Our roads have turned into rivers," said longtime park resident Minnie Jaresky. "Every street is totally flooded out. If the water gets any higher, we'll be forced to evacuate." Dozens of local businesses also have been affected. The cause of the flooding, according to residents, business owners and county officials, is a combination of pumping from a nearby golf course and a clogged stormwater ditch on property owned by Harlan and Virginia Farmer, along U.S. 19 and Springer Drive. When clouds dumped several inches of rain on the saturated Magnolia Valley Golf Course this weekend, course operators switched on a pair of water pumps to dry it out. The water flowed through a maze of stormwater drains and culverts to the Farmers' property. That's where the flow ended, county officials say, backing up into the neighborhood. So far, the Farmers have refused to let county workers onto their property to unclog the 20-foot-wide ditch, which is supposed to drain under U.S. 19 into the Gulf of Mexico. County officials went before Circuit Judge Linda Babb on Wednesday seeking an emergency injunction to grant access to the property; the judge declined to consider the motion because the Farmers' attorney, James A. Helinger Jr., wasn't at the hearing. That leaves county officials few options for intervening directly. "We will continue to monitor the weather conditions and the upstream impacts," Assistant County Attorney Nicki Spirtos said. "If the flooding persists, we will file another motion with the court." Helinger couldn't be reached for comment Thursday. "They just won't let us onto the property," said County Commissioner Michael Cox, who has intervened in the crisis on behalf of homeowners. "We need to get this resolved." In the interim, county workers have set up a makeshift pumping station on Leo Kidd Drive to alleviate some of the flooding in the low-lying neighborhood. Business Owners Speak Out Property owners in the densely populated west Pasco neighborhood are livid. "This was supposed to have been fixed years ago," said a fuming Bart Quinn, owner of Tri City Glass & Mirror in Port Richey. "Something needs to be done. It's killing my business." He blames the county for not resolving the flooding problem. "Our taxes pay for the county government, and they do nothing for us," Quinn said. At Ultima Automotive, a block south of Ridge Road on Congress Street, things are much the same. "We're basically flooded out," said John Andersen, the company's towing manager. Landowner Trying To Sell Why the Farmers won't allow the county to unclog the ditch is unclear. The dispute seems to revolve around a legal challenge they have filed against the county. In December, the Farmers filed a lawsuit against Pasco County, asking a judge to force the county to stop using the ditch. The suit alleges that the ditch, which was created by the mosquito control district in the late 1950s, was not intended for use as drainage. Court documents show the Farmers have been trying to sell the property to commercial developers, but have been unsuccessful. They blame the ditch. "Because of the unlawful appropriation by Pasco County of a significant portion of my clients' property for public drainage, the ditch has frustrated and complicated my clients' development efforts, and the contract fell through," Helinger wrote to the county. In documents as part of the lawsuit, county officials dispute the Farmers' challenge. The last time the neighborhood flooded was in 2004, during Hurricane Frances. Back then, property owners affected by the floods blamed the golf course pumps. As the water in the neighborhood engulfed homes and businesses, things got ugly. Golf course workers were threatened by irate property owners, and someone fired a bullet through the diesel-powered water pump on Rowan Road, temporarily stopping it. The person who shot it was never caught. This time around, though, the flooding issue seems headed for a courtroom. Meanwhile, residents and business owners find themselves caught in the middle. Thursday morning, Parker was keeping an eye on the water level outside her home. The skies looked like rain again.
Reporter Christian M. Wade can be reached at (727) 815-1082 or [email protected]