Not ready for the water

Dear Editor:

Bradford County does not appear to be ready for this year’s predicted active hurricane season. Hurricane Irma in September 2017 could be used as a guide for determining if you and Bradford County are ready for a significant rain event.

It is interesting to note that the water levels in mid-May 2024 are about the same as they were in mid-May 2017.

Irma flooded many areas in Bradford County along its creeks, canals, and rivers and around its lakes. If you have moved to Bradford County or to a new location in Bradford County since September 2017, it is important to ask your neighbors if your location was flooded during and/or after Irma. If your home or apartment was flooded, have a plan and supplies like sandbags and ways to raise furniture 12 to 18 inches above the floor.  Have a spot you can park your car, so it does not get flooded.  Find out if the roads to get to and from your house flood.

The Heritage Village and Orangewood apartments along Alligator Creek and the Pine Forest apartments on the Pratt Street drain were flooded during Irma. Bradford County’s drainage infrastructure is not in good condition, so Bradford County has very little time to address the key issues that follow and will need assistance from the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD).

There are trees across Alligator Creek in Starke, upstream of the 301 bridge, that could trap debris and trash and cause blockages that could cause upstream flooding. Large amounts of sediment have accumulated at the Laura Street Alligator Creek Bridge.  Removing that sediment is important because once water levels reach the bottom of the bridge, it acts like a dam until water flows over the bridge like it did during Irma.

The SRWMD Edwards Bottomlands Project along Alligator Creek at the Edwards Road Sports Complex has accumulated trash and debris that slows flows. The secondary channel of the project was designed to allow high flows to pass through the project in areas where the straight canal was replaced with ox bows. That secondary channel has become overgrown with invasive and other plants that reduce flow.  The large bunch grass called gamma grass the SRWMD planted through the project also reduces flow. The reduced flows may explain why nine of the highest levels of Alligator Creek have occurred since the SRWMD completed the Edwards Bottomlands project.  The SRWMD should remove the trash and debris, mow the secondary channel, and mow the gamma grass they planted.  

The SRWMD has killed camphor trees with herbicides and the beavers have damaged the large sweetgum trees on the north bank of Alligator Creek. The SRWMD should cut and remove the dead camphor and sweetgum trees to keep the dead or damaged trees from falling across Alligator Creek during a rain event with high winds.

Irma caused significant flooding around lakes Sampson and Crosby. At this point, the cattails and other aquatic plants are significantly reducing the flow out of Lake Sampson.  The reduced flows mean Lake Sampson levels cannot be lowered in advance of a predicted storm.  The unrestricted flow path has been reduced to a width of less than 10 feet.  Bradford County should ask the SRWMD for funding to expand that width to at least 150 feet by removing the aquatic vegetation.  If the SRWMD is not willing to fund the aquatic plant removal, Bradford County should try and find the funds in its current budget so the plants can be removed before the next major ran event. 

Any blockages in the Sampson River Canal between CR 225 and the CSX trestle should be removed.  Rayonier may be able to help with blockage removal.  The large accumulation of sediment at the CR 18 Sampson River Bridge should be evaluated.

Water Oak Creek, Lawtey Alligator Creek, and the Santa Fe and New Rivers should be checked for blockages and sediment, particularly at road bridges and culverts. The Alto Canal needs to be evaluated to make sure blockages will not cause higher water levels in Lake Santa Fe. The Lake Hampton drainage canal needs to be checked to make sure blockages will not cause higher water levels in Lake Hampton.

The drainage canal that flows through the Pine Forest apartments needs to be evaluated for blockages and CSX should be asked to increase the capacity of the culverts under its rail line. 

Chemours should be asked to make sure it has the capacity to hold the amount of stormwater required in its permits.  A failure of the Industrial Wastewater Treatment ponds east of Starke could have a significant impact on homes in eastern Starke and eastern Bradford County.  Failure of the perimeter berms at the new Chemours Trail Ridge South Mine could have impacts on homes along the northern part SE CR 100 A.  The Chemours operations in Lawtey need to be evaluated for potential impacts in the Lawtey area.  

Bradford County is planning to ask for $900,000 from the Hazardous Mitigation Grant Program for a new water-level control structure on CR 225 at Sampson City. Plans should be made now to tap this federal funding source for property acquisition, raising flooded homes, and, if allowed, purchasing equipment that could be used to maintain Bradford County’s drainage system.  Without system maintenance, we will be in a cycle of flooding and rebuilding. Preventing the flooding is the most cost-effective approach.


Paul Still