Hurricane season is fast approaching, and residents in the south end of Washington County are anxious about what that could mean for the already perpetually flooded area.
The residents in around Pine Ridge Drive, Rolling Pines Road, Childress Lane and Radcliffe Circle have been dealing with flooding since 2019, which has forced some to opt for the buyout program offered by the county.
The county has been working to provide relief to residents, notably through $6 million in FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance Grants, which allows the county to purchase qualifying properties for their pre-hurricane values. Those properties would then be turned into permanent green spaces.
One resident is on a mission to find other solutions to the flooding issues gripping her community, however.
Radcliffe Circle resident Jennifer Stedman has been left feeling frustrated by what she says is slow progress and response to the issue from the agencies the community depends on for help.
The county began pumping water out of the area last December and had successfully brought the levels down by 10-12 inches. However, in February, the pumping stopped due to funds running out.
“When they turned off the pumps, they turned off our hope,” said Stedman.
Residents in the area say the problem has only gotten worse since Hurricane Michael, with some saying it has been exacerbated by the number of trees cut down in recent years by Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFMD).
“Water Management has clear cut thousands of acres and is continuing to cut thousands of acres every year,” resident David Rich said in a community meeting held last fall. “Maybe look at a moratorium on cutting trees around until we figure out what is causing all this tremendous flooding.”
Hurricane Michael left many downed trees in waterways in Washington and Bay Counties that have not been cleaned out due to funding shortages. This could be one of many reasons the area is continuing to hold water, according to County Administrator Jeff Massey.
“We can’t say with absolute certainty why the area is holding water, especially in the areas of Spring Pond and Pine Ridge,” he said. “We know the aquifer is full which doesn’t allow water to percolate through the sand as it naturally would. Once the aquifer level come down, the water will start to come down on its own as well.”
Massey says the county continuously looks for more sources to help bear the costs for pumping and debris clearing.
“We continue to seek out funding sources for clearing debris left from Michael,” he said. “The county applied for a second round of funding from FEMA, and it has been sitting in Washington D.C. for the last 160 days. The funding that we received in the first round just wasn’t enough to cover the entire county.”
The Board of County Commissioners voted earlier this month to submit application to Resilient Florida for a vulnerability planning grant. The grant would pay for a study to be completed on flooding mitigation throughout the entire county. Other mitigation grant opportunities through Resilient Florida are also being applied for as they become available.
Laura Dhuwe with Florida Department of Emergency Management and Dr. Wesley Brooks, Florida’s Chief Resiliency Officer, have also toured the flooded areas to gain a first-hand look at residents’ plight.
Massey states the hope is the county will be able to find a way to bring the water levels down enough so that hurricane season won’t be as detrimental as it could be.
“We as a county are keeping a close eye on the area,” he said. “Water has significantly dropped on Rolling Pines and Radcliffe Circle by two and a half feet, but Pine Ridge hasn’t come down. We are continuing to work on behalf of these residents, but at this point we are at mercy of the state and the aquifer. I am hoping and praying that hurricane season does not bring with it another major storm.”
Stedman says hurricane season is putting residents on edge, but a lot of the worry could be alleviated with more communication and clarity from county officials.
“By keeping residents up-to-date with what is being done to remedy our situation, I believe it would help us not be as concerned,” she said. “More information, even if it is showing us planning phases, would help ease our fears. Words aren’t enough anymore; we need to see what is being done.”