The $53 million Ware’s Creek flood mitigation project was expected to reduce flooding during heavy storms like those produced this week by what has become Hurricane Hermine.
Residents along the creek say the money was not well spent.
Mary Alta Griffin lives in the 1400 block of 21st Street West. She and neighbors had a harrowing Wednesday afternoon as Ware’s Creek spilled its bank and climbed the long, uphill slope of their backyards. The flood water climbed uphill about 150 feet, just a few feet shy of Griffin’s back door.
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“I’m a lady,” Griffin said, “so, I’ll just say that I’m disgusted. I have not seen the water come up this far since 1988 when we had 15 inches of steady rain. It was halfway up my garage door in the back. When they (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) bragged that the creek was done and was performing wonderfully, I said then that was a bit premature. Now I’ll say that premature is a masterpiece of an understatement.”
The water came out of the banks with such fury and with so much debris that it knocked down chain link fences along the bank, between neighbors, knocked down small trees and destroyed Heather Blanchard’s chicken coop, drowning one of the birds.
“We just couldn’t get to the coop,” said Blanchard. “The water was moving too fast and it was too dangerous to try.”
Blanchard’s house sits a little closer to the creek than Griffin’s home and the water had come all the way to her back door.
“I just think this whole thing has been planned inefficiently,” Blanchard said. “We were told for years that it would be better, but it’s worse. I’m absolutely disappointed that we were told this area would be cleaned out, and it has not been touched since the last contractor stopped the job.”
Both Griffin and Blanchard said Manatee County personnel visited with them several months ago to get permission to enter their properties to clean out the banks behind their homes, but they never returned.
Amanda Parker, spokeswoman for the Army Corps, told the Bradenton Herald months ago that the county had assumed maintenance problems for the creek. Parker confirmed that on Thursday, saying, “The county has control of the project now.”
Manatee County spokesman Nick Azzara said that’s not true.
“The county hasn’t yet accepted maintenance responsibility from the Army Corps for the Ware’s Creek project,” he said. “They’re still the agency in charge, so we will defer questions about the project to the Corps.”
Parker backtracked later Thursday, however, saying the Corps is still in discussions with the county to assume control.
“The contractor is still tending to warranty type items unrelated to project functionality of which the Corps continues to oversee,” Parker said. “The Corps and the county remain committed to ensure the project functions as designed.”
Parker said the project is designed to withstand a five-year storm event and reduce flooding from a 10-year storm event, but Tropical Storm Hermine is expected to end up with a higher rating.
“After Tropical Storm Colin, the Corps did several spot checks and confirmed the project functional,” Parker said. “The Corps will likely do a similar assessment following the current storm and work with the county to address issues.
In the meantime, Azzara said citizens with concerns can contact the Citizens Information Center at 941-748-4501.
“If there’s something the county crews can assist with, we will,” he said.
It’s that kind of lack of communication that has long frustrated residents. Wednesday’s flooding only made matters worse.
Creek water invaded the home of Tammy Ralston.
“It was pouring into into my first floor,” she said. “We were told the work was completed behind our house, although none of us ever saw anyone working.”
Mark Cosgrove, who lives off of 18th Street West, has had a long battle with the Corps.
“It was rather scary for a while,” Cosgrove said. “The water did come over the bank. The sewer backed up in my bathtub and raw sewage poured out into my yard from 7 p.m. until around 4 a.m.”
Blanchard said taxpayers have not received justification for “the millions of dollars that have been spent and it still isn’t done.”
Griffin said the Corps needs to return and finish the job.
“We as taxpayers have already paid for this,” she said. “The Corps needs to come out here en mass and finish what they started and not leave it up to us.”
Sandbag distribution still available:
Where: 705 13th Ave. W., public works garage.
When: Until 7 p.m. Thursday evening
Where: Public works, 600 17th St. W.
When: Until 4 p.m., however, workers will remain if the need is consistent.