More than a month after Hurricane Ian impacted the Lakewood Ranch area, some neighborhoods continue to deal with the cleanup and its cost.
Lakewood Ranch Executive Director Steve Zielinski, the executive director of the Lakewood Ranch Inter-District Authority, said cleanup efforts would cost between $800,000 and $900,000 and are mostly complete. However, he said an eroded shoreline along Lake Uihlein, replacing downed trees and picking up remaining debris are all problems that need to be solved.
Tom Merrell, director of operations at the Inter-District Authority, said most of the issues should be resolved in the next few months.
Merrell said immediately after the storm the IDA used posts that had been kept in storage to prop up many of the damaged road signs. However, that is only a temporary fix and many of those signs still need to be repaired.
One issue they are currently trying to fix is the erosion along Lake Uihlein.
The large size of Lake Uihlein left it susceptible to the hurricane's winds. and the resulting waves washed away parts of the banks.
Although fencing has been placed along affected areas, he said residents are no longer able to walk along some areas of the bank without it posing a safety issue.
He said the storm water system also was impacted and repairs have been scheduled.
Besides Lake Uihlein, other ponds in the district have been affected as well.
Fortunately, he said solar panels powering the aeration systems in the ponds suffered no damage, as they were taken inside during the storm.
He also said he had not observed any abnormal levels of algae growth in the local community ponds. He said hurricanes sometimes have a beneficial effect, flushing out algae.
Merrell said some landscaping issues might not fully resolved until 2024.
Fallen trees remain through many of the IDA communities and those losses have resulted in a loss of privacy for some residents.
Some berms have gaps in the vegetation.
Alan Roth, the chair of CDD1, which oversees Summerfield and Riverwalk Village, said the landscaping in his district had already been riddled with issues before the hurricane, but that the situation is now worse.
Fallen trees along Lakewood Ranch Boulevard continue to mark the landscape along gaps in the vegetation where trees and bushes have been removed.
“That will be replaced over time, but not tomorrow,” he said.
Merrell said funding the repairs would be difficult, as the budgets were only designed to cope with the gradual deterioration of berms.
“This really expedited it,” he said.
Roth said his neighborhood was still had significant levels of debris along the road.
He said his district had already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the cleanup along Summerfield Parkway, including the removal of downed oak trees by three different contractors.
“We just ask people to be patient. I mean, it's not something that we can do (in a hurry),” he said.
Manatee County is providing additional cleanup.
The IDA staged all debris at its Lakewood Ranch operations facility until it was full. Then JLC Hauling, Inc. was hired to grind all debris into mulch with a tub grinder, before hauling it away.
Managing the impacts
Zielinski said the overall expenses across the Lakewood Ranch districts would total between $800,000 and $900,000.
In contrast, Zielinski he said the costs for Hurricane Irma cleanup and recovery in 2017 totaled approximately $250,000.
Zielinski said the IDA is applying for reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which he expects to be received within 12-18 months.
CDD chairpersons said they were not overly concerned about the ability of the districts to handle the costs of the storm.
Roth said he expects a substantial amount of the expenses to be repaid by FEMA.
Although the plans for next fiscal year have not been determined, he said for the current fiscal year, no additional assessments from residents will be needed, as the district will cover as much as it can using unassigned surpluses from the past.
He said in the case that the district did have to utilize assigned surpluses in the future, it could pull from its funds for water, which he said were frequently utilized less extensively than planned, with remaining amounts ranging from $50,000 to $70,000.
He said future decisions for Fiscal Year 2023-2024 were still to be determined by the landscape committee.
“Whatever they decide, we will accommodate within the best of our ability,” he said.
He also said he was awaiting a new set of budget options from Zielinski, Chief Financial Officer Susan Wiggins, and other budget staff members.
Mike Griffin, chairperson of CDD4, which oversees the area of Greenbrook Village, said he did not think there would be any compromise in services for residents in his district as a result of the expenses.
“That's what the reserves are for,” he said.
He also said he expected the FEMA funds to provide any needed aid.
He said the district would be taking “a couple of steps back” in its budgeting based on advice from Zielinski, who said the IDA was feeling the pressures from contractors raising their pricing in response to the current economic situation.
“All options are on the table,” he said, stating the board would choose to manage the situation in whatever way the residents preferred to see it done.
He also said he was satisfied with the IDA’s handling of the storm impacts.
“I highly commend them for the way they responded to all of these challenges,” he said.