Drainage system failures may have intensified record 2017 flooding

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Island Park as seen from the WINK News drone.

When Island Park Road in south Fort Myers was impassable for days on end during late August torrential rains and then again after Hurricane Irma, many were surprised by the level of flooding.

Ten Mile Canal report. Credit: Lee County

At least one hundred homeowners reported damage to their homes by floodwater, according to an engineering report commissioned by Lee County.

The unordinary amount of rainfall has taken the blame for the flooding: more than ten inches of water fell on Lee County during a three day period in late August, and then another six to ten inches fell in September.

However, engineering reports and documents dating back to the 1970’s show that drainage and flooding concerns in that area have been a discussion amongst leaders for decades.

A February 2018 report by Johnson Engineering noted that portions of Ten Mile Canal were not constructed to the full design plan from 1977.

“The lack of maintenance, unfinished construction, and unplanned flow impediments limited how fast the runoff could get through downstream conveyances and Ten Mile Canal after both storm events,” wrote engineers.

Island Park. WINK/ Nicole Valdes

Ten Mile Canal starts at Hanson Street near downtown Fort Myers and runs south, crossing US-41 near Island Park Road and eventually emptying into a tributary of Estero Bay. It was built in the 1920’s as a drainage system.

Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, whose district encompasses much of the area hit by last summer’s flooding, estimated that 60 square miles of the county drains into the canal.

“It’s Lee County’s biggest drainage system,” said Kiker.

Flooding in Island Park. Man rescues dog from the flood. WINK News/ Lauren Sweeney

Lee County paid Johnson Engineering more than $80,000 to study the flooding issues happening in south Fort Myers after Hurricane Irma.

A group of residents in the Island Park area have hired their own engineer to study potential issues with Ten Mile Canal.

Ted Ehrlich, of the Ten Mile Canal Community Group, said their engineer is concerned with where the canal narrows and bottlenecks right behind Old US-41.

“It is the single biggest problem,” said Ehrlich.

The 1970’s plans, also created by Johnson Engineering, recommended widening and deepening Ten Mile canal.

“It narrows from about 250 feet wide, to just 50 feet wide and less than three feet deep,” claimed Ehrlich.

Portions of the 2018 Johnson Engineering report show the 1977 design in comparison to what the canal actually looks like today.

Mud and debris was left behind Thursday as floodwaters receded on Royal Woods Drive in the Island Park neighborhood of south Fort Myers.

The report noted evidence of sediment build-up south of Old US-41 indicated on historical aerial photographs dating back to 2010.

The County’s Natural Resources director presented findings from the reports to the Lee County Board commissioners at a special meeting in March. That presentation focused heavily on record rainfall and did not mention anything about lack of maintenance and construction in ten mile canal.

Commissioners Larry Kiker and Cecil Pendergrass told WINK News they were not aware of the 1970’s design for ten mile canal and said they did not read the 2018 Johnson Engineering report.

This elevation shows the difference between the 1977 proposal and the grade that exists today. Credit: Johnson Engineering via Lee County report.

“Have we learned, or are we going to learn from what happened? I think the answer is obvious: yes,” said Kiker.

The county plans to use federal grant money to remove sediment build-up in Ten Mile Canal, and will pay for more studies regarding long-term projects such as widening.

So far, the county has spent more than $300,000 for several engineering firms to study five areas of the county. Those reports and an interactive map showing how the county is maintaining drainage systems are available on the county’s website.

WINK News interview requests with Lee County’s Natural resources director and Johnson Engineering staff were declined.

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