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Longboat Key Monday, Feb. 15, 2021 1 week ago

Christ Church plans to begin construction to resolve drainage dispute

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Neighbor Ross Toussaint claims stormwater runoff has damaged his property for the last 11 years.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

It’s going to take several more weeks to find resolution to a drainage dispute between Christ Church of Longboat Key and its next-door neighbor.

The Southwest Florida Water Management District has provided Christ Church notice of a Feb. 26 deadline to complete construction on a redesigned pump system for stormwater runoff. However, SFWMD public information officer Susanna Martinez Tarokh said it will take about six weeks for the pump to arrive.

“The pump will not be available for installation prior to the notice deadline,” Tarokh wrote in an email. “Christ Church indicated they will start construction prior to Feb. 26 to prepare the site for the pump system.”

The preparation includes removing trees, curbing and crushed shell from the bioswale adjacent to the property owned by Ross Toussaint, who lives on General Harris Street.

The bioswale between Ross Toussaint's property and Christ Church of Longboat Key was filled with stormwater runoff on July 25, 2020. It overflowed onto Toussaint's property. Photo Credit: Ross Toussaint

Toussaint says the stormwater drainage coming from the church has damaged his property during the last 11 years or so. It’s a dispute that he says has cost him thousands of dollars.

SFWMD approved Christ Church’s Feb. 1 request to make changes to the pump size used to convey stormwater runoff.

“We expect to shortly commence work on this minor modification to our stormwater management system,” Christ Church chairman John Shehorn wrote in an email.

Last month, SFWMD provided Christ Church notice for a permit condition violation on the project. In a Jan. 27 letter, the state said the church at 6400 Gulf of Mexico Drive had yet to begin construction on a stormwater management system.

“It’s just unfortunate for me because it’s holding up my life and my property, and I’m not an enemy of the church,” Toussaint said.

Public records show SFWMD approved a permit for the church to begin construction of the stormwater management system on Sept. 11, 2020. Initially, the state gave Christ Church until Jan. 9 to complete the corrective work.

“If this matter is not brought into compliance in a timely manner at the staff level, the case may be referred to the District’s Office of General Counsel for further enforcement action,” SFWMD engineer Carley Trask wrote in a Jan. 27, 2021, letter to Shehorn.

Tarokh said SFWMD will continue to work with the District’s Office of General Counsel for resolution of the non-compliance.

“Should the church fail to complete construction in a timely manner, staff will work with the District’s Office of General Counsel regarding enforcement options,” Tarokh wrote. “An enforcement action is an administrative procedure or judicial proceeding to enforce rules, enjoin violations of law, protect water resources, and recover a civil penalty for offenses.”

Christ Church has hired Parrish-based Claybrooke Engineering Associates, Inc. to try to resolve the drainage matter.

Specifically, SFWMD has asked Christ Church to remove the curb along the east side of the previously authorized bioswale system, install a 60-foot trench underdrain system within the bioswale system and install an inlet on the north end of the bioswale system along with a lift station and force main system, which ties into an existing culvert to the west under General Harris Street. The state says the pump system is designed to ensure stormwater runoff is conveyed around the church site without contributing to flooding in the area.

Toussaint produced a 10-minute, 47-second video to document his troubles. Earlier this month, he sent the video to the Longboat Key Town Commission.

“While I have worked very hard to defend my property rights and keep my property maintained nicely, I want people to know that I am not against the Christ Church parishioners, or the religion nor the buildings and the property,” Toussaint said in the video. “I am against the ongoing situation that I have been put in, including spending an enormous amount of precious time defending myself, holding up my life and my property for something I did not create, and also how this matter has been handled since day one.”

Toussaint also sent a follow-up email to ask about the possibility of Mayor Ken Schneier and Town Manager Tom Harmer meeting with him to discuss the situation with Christ Church.

Court documents show Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court Angel Colonneso closed Toussaint’s civil lawsuit against Christ Church on Jan. 5. Before that, April 11, 2019, marked the last the case saw any kind of activity.

An administrative order states the types of classes the clerk is to re-close after a year of inactivity. It means Toussaint could choose to reopen the case, but he would have to file a new motion and pay any filing fees.

Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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