Residents in Hastings and the surrounding areas are saying they’ve never seen the water come as high or stay as long as it has after recent storms.
At Tuesday’s meeting of the St. Johns County Commission, two Byrd Road residents whose homes were flooded from Hurricane Irma last month, and threatened again last weekend by a nor’easter, put the blame on congestion of Deep Creek.
One resident said she got 28 inches of water in her home from Irma and 8 inches from the nor’easter, adding she cannot move forward with rebuilding until something is done with the drainage, or lack thereof, of the waterway.
She said before being flooded out twice in the past three weeks, she never saw any water in the house her previous five years there. She said other people who have lived in the area nearly 50 years would say the same.
Another Byrd Road resident who’s lived there about 25 years corroborated her story and said there is an issue with Deep Creek, specifically between the bridge at County Road 13 and State Road 207.
“Something needs to be done immediately,” he said.
Dale Barnes, a lifelong resident, said his father and grandfather held a contract in the 1950s or 1960s to recover fallen logs from the creek.
“I know the creek as well as anybody,” he said. “You couldn’t pay me a thousand dollars to dive off a boat anywhere in there because you’re going to hit your head on a log.”
Barnes said a filled pipe won’t drain, no matter how large it is.
“That creek is a big pipeline,” he told commissioners.” “It can drain this water, but we’ve got to get it open.”
He said it’s been at least 25-30 years since the creek was last cleared.
County officials have since confirmed it appears to have been at least a couple of decades since the last clearing, although no project dates have been provided. Oversight of the creek has also changed over the years.
Commissioner Jeb Smith, a Hastings farmer, said he went out Monday to take a look at the congestion and could not cross the creek at Flagler Estates Boulevard due to about 6 inches of flooding on the roadway.
He told fellow commissioners the creek appears to be damming at C.R. 13, where there is no distinct channel, causing the water to get pushed mostly to the west. He said the water jeopardizing homes and farm fields, some of which were still underwater.
“We’re accustomed to flooding but we’re accustomed to that water getting away fairly quickly,” he said.
Smith said navigability of the creek from C.R. 13 to up past S.R. 207 would be “impossible” today due to the trees and debris in the water.
“To say that the creek is compromised is an understatement,” he said. “… It’s a very easy remedy, and it doesn’t seem to be happening.”
He said he was well aware of other issues affecting other properties along other waterways such as the St. Johns River, but said it’s just “pure logic” that the area would not have sustained as much damage from the recent storms had the creek been cleared as it has in the past.
He called for consensus from the board to pursue funding and buy-in from the appropriate agencies to get the clearing done.
Jay Brawley, county engineer, told The Record on Friday said clearing the creek is going to be a group effort.
He said the county will likely be coordinating, to various degrees, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, St. Johns River Water Management District, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the Flagler Estates Road and Water District to review all the environmental issues at play and to secure potential funding sources.
Brawley said they’re also trying to get a bird’s eye view of the area to determine what portions of the damage were caused by Hurricane Irma, potentially to get funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“The key for tying in FEMA in the process is identifying Irma damage and how much debris and blockages were caused by that,” he said.
Brawley said they also want to look at the tributaries and structures, as well as canal maintenance infrastructure, that tie into Deep Creek.
“Every piece of infrastructure has a life expectancy and some of these structures could now have a shortened life cycle because of the recent storm damages,” he said. “Some items may need to be replaced sooner than planned.”
However, Brawley said it’s too soon to tell when any action can be taken. He said all the agencies that will likely need to be involved have been contacted and all of those agencies have expressed interest in looking at what can be done.
“One of the challenges right now is all of the global issues going on in Florida and around the country,” he said, adding the county is pooling together as many people as it can over the next couple of weeks to get the process underway before some more decision-makers can get their eyes on it.
Despite the fact many agencies are stretched thin following a slew of high-impact storms across the Southeastern United States and in the Caribbean, Brawley said the county does have commitments from people across local, regional, state and federal agencies for meetings over the next couple of weeks.