By Rachel Brown Hackney
Just as motorists in downtown Sarasota have learned to be wary of U.S. 41 near Gulfstream Avenue when it rains hard, drivers on a section of Siesta Key’s Higel Avenue know to watch out for flooding in one particular area.
In 2014, a couple who lives on that segment of Higel, along with the president of the Somerset Cove Condominiums — whose complex is in the same vicinity — spoke with Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) staff about their frustrations.
FDOT engineers also talked with another couple, who lived on Shell Road at that time; their property played a key role in the situation.
A subsequent FDOT study included one question and answer that summed up the Higel Avenue issue: “How frequently does the problem occur? Every year during every major rainstorm event.”The apparent cause? The property at 4013 Higel Ave. is the low point of the local basin,” the study said. “Flooding occurs along the SR [State Road] 758 corridor and eventually enters a 15-inch cross drain under SR 758 and outfalls to the existing outfall ditch,” the study pointed out.
That ditch is located north and northeast of 4013 Higel Ave.; it is within the private property of 3975 Shell Road, the study added. The outfall is to Coconut Bayou. However, the study noted, “The outfall ditch is overgrown with sediment and vegetation from Higel Avenue to Coconut Bayou.”
The study was prepared by Sergio Figueroa, an engineer for FDOT’s District One, which includes Sarasota County.
FDOT maintenance crews have cleaned the 15-inch cross drain frequently, the study said, and the property owners at 3975 Shell Road have cleaned the outfall ditch. However, the study continued, “Due to the recent construction of new homes built above the 100-year floodplain, poor roadway grading, and minimal [storm sewer] collection systems on the west side of SR 758, flooding occurs frequently along the roadway during most rainfall events.”
It has taken some time, but if all goes as planned, within the next couple of years, FDOT “will construct a closed storm sewer system along the west side of SR 758 from Little Pond Lane to Somerset Drive and continue the storm sewer system east directly to the existing outfall, Coconut Bayou,” Zachary Burch, government affairs & communications manager for FDOT, told SNL in mid-August. “The proposed improvements will alleviate flooding issues along SR 758 and adjacent properties,” he added.
The project is in the design phase, Burch wrote in the email. “The current right of way estimate is approximately $785,000 and is funded in FY 2018/2019. The current construction estimate is about $1.3 million, which is not … funded,” he added, “though we are looking for funding opportunities.”
The 2014 study estimated the construction expense at $421,073.19. Each fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
“It’s a great project,” Ben Quartermaine, engineering and operations manager for Sarasota County’s Stormwater Division, told SNL.
Although the county will not be involved in the project, Quatermaine said, staff was provided copies of the engineering drawings and asked to comment on the design.
SNL was unable to reach the owners of the 4013 Higel Ave. property — Andres and Marta Rios — for comment. The 2014 FDOT study pointed out that their “patio deck has been damaged, the garage has seen frequent high levels of water, and the back and side yards of the property [have] to be re-sodded every year” because of the frequent flooding.
The couple who owned the property at 3975 Shell Road sold it in May 2016, Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office records show. The new owner is a limited liability company based in Suwanee, Ga. According to an internet search, the company — CG Shell Siesta Key — is managed by Randy Moore, who also is the co-founder and managing partner of a real estate investment company called Crossgate Partners LLC, which also is headquartered in Suwanee, Ga.
Alleviating the problems
FDOT’s 2014 study said that, based on a permit from the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD), “approximately 3.91 miles of roadway and offsite area percolates into the soil and discharges into [the] existing ditch east of SR 758,” with the outfall ultimately ending up in Coconut Bayou.
Along with the issues mentioned earlier, the study listed other reasons for the flooding along the road in the vicinity of 4013 Higel Ave.:
• “Major vegetation along the ditch.
• “Existing outfall ditch is silted up and poorly graded.
• “Existing ditch size is not sized properly to handle the runoff from SR 758 and offsite areas.
• “High seasonal high water table along the ditch and property.”
The 2014 study called for a drainage improvement project to run 0.152 miles — from milepost 4.858 to milepost 5.010. However, based on the documents provided to Sarasota County Stormwater Division staff, the project as designed is to begin at milepost 3.480 and end at milepost 3.590.
The latest documents also indicate that a 60-day maintenance-of-traffic plan will be needed. Such a plan is routine when FDOT and local governments undertake initiatives that will involve a road. The goal with the traffic plan is make certain the contractor on a project will have crew members directing traffic around the work area, to ensure motorists’ safety.
One document in the packet provided to Sarasota County staff says no lane closures on Higel Avenue will be permitted between 6 and 9 a.m. or between 4 and 7 p.m. The design work dates to May of this year, the cover sheet says.
One of the engineering schematics in the documents provided to county staff also notes, “Special attention is directed to the fact that portions of some drainage structures extend into the stabilized portion of the roadbed and extreme caution will be necessary in stabilization operations at these locations.”
Another page points out that the milling and resurfacing of part of Higel Avenue will be necessary after completion of the drainage work. That segment is only 0.12 miles, the document says.