Weakened Braden River banks threaten Bluff Circle homes

dgraham@bradenton.comJune 21, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Erosion is threatening houses in Summerfield Bluffs, especially after the Braden River overflowed its banks and onto homeowner property during Tropical Storm Andrea.

"The water swelled up in the river. We got 5 inches; some places got 9," said homeowner Tammy Kovar, whose land has now eroded to just 20 feet from her house, which shows cracks around the lanai and pool deck.

The county requires a 30-foot setback. In 2011 there were still 23 feet between the house and riverbank.

The bank behind Kovar's home rises like a cliff and then drops. The yard is sinking behind her neighbor Stuart Siegal's house on River's Bluff Circle.

"During Tropical Storm Andrea, the river rose to approximately the common preserve -- the property line," Siegal said. "As long as I have lived in Lakewood Ranch this is typical during any heavy prolonged rainfall, not just tropical storms. It is apparent that the erosion is the result of the river swelling, then subsiding, and churning currents in the river when it reaches a certain volume."

While Lakewood Ranch homesites are private property, the meandering Braden River and its banks remain public, an environmental preserve protected by a variety of public agencies. Within Lakewood Ranch, community development districts have oversight.

"We can't go into these common areas, these preserve areas, and start cutting down vegetations," said Alan Roth, superintendent for CDD 1, serving Riverwalk and Summerfield. "We're the stewards of that land to try to keep it as close to natural as possible. Mother Nature wants that river to go as straight as possible, and when these houses were built, that developer made that river turn to go around those houses.

"It's a touchy situation because I sympathize with the residents."

In CDD 4, serving Greenbrook, the board took action in June to fund erosion

prevention measures to a part of the riverbank near Adventure Park. Superintendent Joe Sidiski said,

"It is an area that we maintain and it directly abuts an area that affects our infrastructure, so when that area back there floods, it actually prevents people from walking on the trails," Sidiski said. "While it might be somewhat costly to do something now, the potential to do something way more in the future is certainly there. I think that we're doing what the people of Greenbrook would really want us to do if they realized what was going on."

Summerfield Bluffshomeowners were the first to move into Lakewood Ranch back in the late 1990s. The time for preventative measures there has long passed. "To fix it properly would be extraordinary expensive and our lawyer at the time (he has since died but we'll still accept his judgment), said it's not legal for us to spend district money that benefits only one or two or three people in the district and yet costs everybody possibly hundreds or thousands of dollars," Roth said.

Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411.

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