SEBRING - Highlands County should help a half-dozen residents who are under water due to rainy-season torrents, County Commissioner Don Elwell proposed at a meeting today.
The six or seven houses are a half-mile west of Lake Istokpoga, where Rebel Avenue meets Washington Boulevard. They may be flooded because the lake is so full, it raised the water table under the homes, Road and Bridge Superintendent Kyle Green said. More than 40 inches of rain have been reported in the area since June.
"Every one of those houses has been constructed in a low spot," Green said. They are in a topographical bowl. "A couple of them may be below the road."
Green said he spoke to a resident about the drainage ditches around the homes. "But there may be more to it than just cleaning the ditches," Green said.
First, Green said, the county would need legal easements. County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete is working on that part of the problem.
If the county doesn't have those easements, each would have to be surveyed and dedicated to the public, Green said. "And that's quite a lengthy process. A lot more research is going to have to be done."
After county staff decides on a solution, the issue will have to come back to the commissioners to expend emergency funds, possibly at the Sept. 24 meeting.
If the county has the legal authority to help, Green said, driveways would have to be reconstructed, culverts installed, and ditches cleaned. Elwell said one resident has pumped thousands of gallons of stormwater from his yard.
"There are culverts downstream that are smaller than culverts upstream," Green said.
Because Highlands County has received an unusual amount of rain in this rainy season, other areas are flooded, too, Green said.
The county may also look at writing a grant that would purchase the homes of the residents and relocate them, Elwell said. The county did the same seven years ago for houses north of Venus.
The Salvation Army and the Red Cross has already helped the families, Elwell said, by temporarily paying for a hotel.
"The real problem is that the property is built below the water table," commission Chairman Jack Richie said. "The water is coming up through the floors."
"You don't go in there without knee-high boots," Elwell said. "A few larger reptiles have actually taken up residence in one of the houses."
Since septic tanks are flooded, a block of houses could be contaminated, Commissioner Ron Handley said.
"This is going to be hard to resolve," Richie said.
"It's heartbreaking," Elwell said.
Gary Ritter with South Florida Water Management District said Lake Istokpoga's level has stayed steady this year, but that Lake Okeechobee is backed up. The Army Corps of Engineers has reduced outflows because of too much rain in the system.
After a presentation from DAV Commander Harry Oakley Jr. and Don Laycock, the commissioners agreed without a vote to work with veterans who want to add a Hall of Citations that would tell the stories of the individuals honored at Medal of Honor Park in south Sebring.
Facilities Manager David Flowers said a generator would have to be moved, as well as the proposed road the sheriff's office could build in the future.
"It would be a beautiful park," Flowers conceded. "I just don't know if you want to pursue it with taxpayer dollars."
"It looks like there would be adequate room for the park and the road," Commissioner Jim Brooks said.
"Those questions are truly legitimate, but I don't think those things would pose a problem," Richie said.
"I think they are just asking for a commitment that we would be willing to work with them," Handley suggested.
"So proceed, sure, just don't come back to the county to ask for any money," Richie said.
Susan Benton said the sheriff's office has adopted a three-year strategic plan, the third since she was elected six years ago.
After citizens participated in the first plan, Benton said the office has accomplished 97 percent of its objectives.
Commissioner Greg Harris complained that trees are too large on U.S. 27, hiding business signs around Lowe's.