MANATEE -- There's a ditch in Robert Merritt's backyard that doesn't belong to him. It's tangled with Brazilian pepper trees and other vegetation, including mangroves that have slowly encroached onto the retired police officer's land in the 4000 block of 106th Street West in Bradenton.
Mosquitoes have made a home in the stagnant ditch water.
Beyond the web of leaves and branches is a glimpse of Paradise Bay Estates, a 55-and-over mobile home park. The ditch is owned by the park and, according to Merritt, he's reached out numerous times to management through the years asking for them to take care of what he says is their responsibility.
The 72-year-old says he's been maintaining the ditch for 20 years -- and he's had enough.
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"I can't even come back here and enjoy my yard because the water doesn't flow there -- the mosquitoes will eat you alive," Merritt said while standing in his backyard Tuesday afternoon. "I go over to the office and I tell them about it and they're going to do it, they're going to do it and after three or four times, nothing is done. It's forgotten about."
In July, Merritt said he was told by a manager at Paradise Bay Estates she was going to have a her maintenance team take care of it. He said he returned again and
was told the park was compiling a list of trees that needed to be done in the park and he would be included in it. Merritt said he returned a third time and, still, nothing was done.
Inside the Paradise Bay Estates office Tuesday afternoon, a woman who declined to share her name claimed the issue was being taken care of by staff. She declined an interview with the Bradenton Herald.
Merritt said management has been saying that for years.
"Nothing's been done in 20 years here," he said.
Dressed in galoshes and armed with a chainsaw, Merritt said he would clip, snip and weed whack the vegetation every year. He used to throw the debris into the park where employees would discard of it. Recently, Merritt said a man he wanted to contract recently to remove the vegetation asked for $900.
"I don't have $900 to give for somebody else's property," he said.
Merritt said he can't maintain the situation anymore, citing health issues.
"I had open-heart surgery, I had a complete renal breakdown -- six months ago, my gallbladder was gangrenous and I had that taken out," he said. "I can't even lift 10 pounds. They (his doctors) won't let me do anything."
Tuesday afternoon, Manatee County Public Works Director Ron Schulhofer said the county does not get involved in private property.
"That strip of land behind there is owned by the trailer park," added Chad Butzow, deputy director of Manatee County Public Works. "We don't have any enforcement on that at all."
Meritt's wife, Pamela, 69, said she is bothered by the situation.
"I think that if they're supposed to keep it trimmed, then do it," she said. "It's part of their responsibility, not ours."
Before the invasive trees crept into his yard, Merritt said the ditch was once pristine. Clear water used to rise and fall with the tide, he said. Now, it's blocked up by pine needles.
"There used to be blue crabs come in there. There used to be sea turtles come in and lay their eggs," Merritt said, his arm extended. "I used to put the screen around the eggs to protect them so predators couldn't get them and the eggs would hatch and I'd go out and watch them get in the water down there."
Merritt said he can no longer come to his own backyard to read.
"I have nightmares about it worrying what am I going to do," he said.
If the situation isn't taken care of, Merritt said he plans to take legal action.
"I just want it to be cut down and maintained," he said. "That's all I want and just leave me alone. Keep that clean over there and I'll be happy."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.