In 2009, Eric Davidson, an engineer formerly employed with the St. Joe Company, went before the Board of County Commissioners with a warning: due to recent construction at WindMark Beach, the 32-acre community of St. Joseph Shoes would soon be fighting floodwaters.
Originally planned as a branch of the high-end Miraval Resort Spas, the WindMark area was cleared with the original plans of constructing a hotel. Davidson, who worked with St. Joe 2004-2008, said that as massive redesign went into effect, more and more land was cleared leaving the area in disarray.
“It was chaos on a large scale,” said Davidson. “They were trying to jam something in there that didn’t fit.
“It didn’t make any sense on paper.”
According to Davidson’s presentation to commissioners, due to the filling and re-grading of the area during construction in 2007, water flow and drainage changed directions and stormwater accumulation no longer had anywhere to go.
Eventually the deal with Miraval was canceled and WindMark was annexed into the city, but the damage to the area was already done.
Traditional patterns of stormwater drainage to the St. Joseph Shores, located directly to the south of WindMark, were blocked off by the hotel building pad and several retention ponds were put into the area.
Davidson, a resident of St. Joseph Shores at the time, saw that when these basins filled with rain and overflowed, the rain would go the only direction it could: downhill.
Davidson, who self-described his career as “fixing broken construction projects” said that it was only a matter of time before heavy rains put the St. Joseph Shores community underwater.
“The writing was on the wall,” he said, just as he told commissioners in 2009.
Despite the presentation, the warning fell on deaf ears.
Residents of St. Joseph Shores banded together to create Watermark Way LLC in hopes to streamline communication with the large companies.
Davidson’s hope was to create a comprehensive stormwater management plan for the area, created and implemented cooperatively between Gulf County, the St. Joe Company, and the residents of St. Joseph Shores.
The group is still waiting.
In 2008 it seemed Davidson’s predictions came true. The backyard of St. Joseph Shores resident Betty Price began to flood with each heavy rain. A 32-year resident of the area, Price said that this was the first time flooding had ever occurred.
In September 2009, Price’s son, Stan, went before the BOCC seeking drainage to be added to the area.
Then-Commissioner Bill Williams passed a motion for a feasibility study and cost estimate and recommended that Stan be part of a stormwater committee. According to Stan, neither idea came to fruition.
For the next six years as the yard continued to flood, Price got into a system of calling Public Works and a water pump and limited fuel supply would be delivered. The catch is that Price must wade out into the water to refuel and restart the pump every three hours.
In January of this year Davidson, Price and several other St. Joseph Shores residents filed a complained with the Florida Board of Professional Engineers in Tallahassee against Preble-Rish Engineering for performing building code inspector duties.
The complaint questioned how platted roadways could be turned into canals, how grades could be raised all around a platted subdivision leading to property being consistently underwater and how the St. Joseph Shores subdivision had been converted into an enclave in clear violation of Florida statute.
Because the complaint was aimed at a company rather than an individual, Davidson said it was ignored.
“I’m not trying to destroy anyone’s career,” said Davidson. “I’m not doing this to be an antagonist.
“I just want to see it fixed.”
Price and her son Stan attended the BOCC’s bi-monthly meeting last month during which county administrator Don Butler presented a brief overview of the area and its problems to the commissioners.
“It went nowhere,” said Price. “They did nothing to solve the problem, they just talked about it.”
After the meeting Price received several truckloads of dirt from the county at her property. Price’s family had to use a borrowed tractor to create a levy around her garage to keep water from filling the carport and utility room, allowing it to dry out for the first time in months.
Stan was able to clean out the black mold from the utility room and carport, but with plans to help his mother sell the house, he said he worried that the constant flooding would prevent any interest on the market and believed that value of the property had already decreased significantly.
County Commissioner Joanna Bryan previously suggested to Stan, and did so again following Butler’s presentation, that she doesn’t believe that the county owns the land behind St. Joseph Shores.
The Prices are less concerned with learning who owns the land and desperate for assistance of any kind so that they don’t end up underwater.
Much like the ongoing issues with the Americus Ditch in St. Joe Beach, it seemed that the BOCC has another mess on its hands from a previous administration, the Prices said, and the BOCC does not seem keen on assuming any responsibility.
Davidson has suggested that the community band together to enter litigation with engineers Preble-Rish and the St. Joe Company. Stan said he had already spoken with an attorney, but has not yet retained them, in hopes the problem can be settled without having to go to court.