Latest storms bring St. Johns County’s drainage issues, new and old, to light

Tuesday was the first day in nearly two weeks Sue Bergeron could safely get her car out of the driveway and down the road, parts of which are still underwater after a nor’easter that came on the heels of Hurricane Irma.

 

Winton Circle, off U.S. 1 at Watson Road, has been inundated for the better part of the month since the hurricane.

Bergeron says once the ground gets saturated, it only takes a couple of inches of rain for the water to come pouring into the streets — and people’s properties. It can take months for the water to drain. But it wasn’t always like this, she added.

The development was built sometime in the mid-1990s. Although the road is called Winton Circle, that circle was never completed.

Bergeron has lived in her home toward the end of the cul-de-sac for about 10 years.

“Ten years ago, we got 13 inches of rain and the road was passable,” she said. “Now, we flood all the time.”

She said the flooding issue didn’t start until about five years ago, but that it’s been getting progressively worse every year.

Bergeron said she and many of her neighbors have been asking St. Johns County’s Road and Bridge Department for help for years, receiving more promises than action.

“Road and Bridge will tell us ‘We’re looking into it,’ or ‘We have plans,’ and nothing has changed,” she said. “This is what they have told us for five years.”

At one point, she said the department told residents some large culverts being attended to along Bella Terra Drive, just to the north, could help alleviate some of the flooding for their neighborhood. Bergeron said there was no visible effect.

Bergeron said one change that seemed to coincide with the worsening flood issues is an increase in development in the area. She said it was also possible a pipe for drainage installed under the road either collapsed or got clogged.

She said there were county workers taking photos of the site on Monday. Commissioner Paul Waldron has also come out to look at the site, she added.

Bergeron said something has to be done because at the end of the day the development was approved and the road is a public road.

“People cannot drive their cars to work, SUVs are flooding, a neighbor cannot get to cancer treatments, a police car was hesitant to come through, a water moccasin was seen swimming through and killed this morning,” she wrote in an email to The Record on Saturday. “Children cannot walk to the bus stop, some neighbors cannot put their trash out. The special needs children that receive equine therapy at the Good Beginnings Riding Center are having trouble getting to therapy. I could continue.”

Neal Shinkre, public works director for the county, told The Record on Tuesday the county is aware of the drainage issues at Winton Circle as well as between 20 and 30 other areas around the county seeing significant problems after the recent round of storms.

He said the bottom line is there are insufficient treatment swales and no positive outflow, essentially meaning there is nowhere for the water to go. The road itself retains the water that comes into it.

“This wouldn’t pass today,” Shinkre said of the development, had it been reviewed under the county’s current standards and requirements. “Without a doubt it wouldn’t.”

He said there was a report for the area done as early as 2006 that came up with 10 possible solutions, including raising the entire road and directing the water to Florida Department of Transportation ditches to the north.

“It’s easier said than done,” Shinkre said, adding the county tried to get easements years ago to get the drainage flowing to the north, but was unsuccessful.

Shinkre said problems with drainage across the county have been exacerbated by the latest round of storms, prompting him to start a Drainage Task Force to identify outstanding drainage issues, review possible projects and re-assess the county’s priorities. He said the county wants to take a more “holistic approach” to problems new and old by tackling the low-hanging fruit such as clearing or repairing failing drains, but also looking at new infrastructure or ways of diverting water.

“Funding is always the biggest issue,” he continued.

Shinkre said he typically has about $1 million a year to handle drainage issues that spring up around the county. However, he’s hoping with damage from recent storms, the county will be able to secure more state and federal funding to mitigate flooding and prevent future problems.

 

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