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Flooding concerns rise amid intensifying impacts of rainstorms

Longboat Key residents and town officials say flood mitigation projects should be at the forefront as flooding issues grow.

The intersection of Fox St. and Longboat Dr. E after the Dec. 17 no-name storm.
The intersection of Fox St. and Longboat Dr. E after the Dec. 17 no-name storm.
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Longboat Key residents are familiar with flooding during severe weather. But recently, residents and officials have taken notice of the growing intensity of flooding during less intense, unnamed storms.

Public comment at the Jan. 8 Town Commission meeting included residents Rusty Chinnis and Jim Whitman speaking about how they and their neighbors are growing concerned with the flooding happening during minor rainfall events. 

Chinnis pointed to a recent rainstorm that drenched the Key for just an hour but left much of the Village flooded.

He said the flooding in lower areas of the island is a growing threat.

“I’ve lived in the village now in my house for almost 40 years,” Chinnis said. “My garage has been flooded four times. Two of those were in the last three months.” 

Commissioner-at-Large BJ Bishop shared similar opinions and anecdotes, saying she went from 10 years of no water in the house to three water intrusions in five months. 

Whitman said he believes this issue should be raised to a higher priority for the commission. 

“This is an issue that is costing people thousands of dollars,” he said at the meeting. “They’ve had their automobiles inundated. They’ve had their pools inundated. … So these are not trivial matters, they are matters of great concern to the people in my neighborhood.” 

Vice Mayor Mike Haycock also commented about the frequency and elevated impact of lesser storms. 

“I’ve been here 27 years now and I’ve never seen flooding this bad,” Haycock said. “It’s more frequent per year than I have ever seen it and for what appears to be minor-type issues.” 

Director of Public Works Isaac Brownman was questioned by commissioners about flood mitigation projects on the books. 

While there are grants that the town applied for and funding available, Brownman said the earliest timeline he could give for any progress would be two to three years. That’s due to complicated design and survey processes, he said. 

In the meantime, commissioners suggested that Brownman and his staff look into the possibility of acquiring a temporary pump system that could be deployed on the island when needed. Brownman agreed it’s something to look into. 

Taken by surprise

Before 2023 came to a close, Longboat Key was hit with a no-name storm that caused significant flooding and other issues. 

Dec. 16-17, a storm brought heavy winds, rain and some storm surge that impacted mainly the north end of Longboat Key

“We didn’t expect this storm to be what it was. It was worse than what we expected,” Longboat Key Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dezzi said.

Around 1:30 a.m. Dec. 17, Dezzi was alerted to a higher-than-usual call volume on the island, with fire alarms and reported structure fires. He decided to get ready and head out to the island to check on his crew. 

Driving in from the south end, the roads were clear. But from about the 6500 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive north, roads were heavily impacted by flooding. Heading farther north, the flooding worsened, according to Dezzi. 

When he says “structure fires,” it’s not always the case that a house is up in flames. In this instance, he said water was getting into power areas, such as outlets, and causing some sparking and smoking. 

Outside, Florida Power & Light’s underground transformer boxes were also having some issues

“I was listening to the firefighters on the radio and they were saying they had some FPL boxes that were smoking,” Dezzi said. “After I heard a couple of those, I told the dispatch center that we needed to shut off the grid to the north end of the island.”

From around 1 a.m. to 9 a.m., the Fire Rescue Department was busy with calls. The department had to deploy their high-water vehicle to get to some calls, but no one was transported to the hospital from storm-related injuries. 

At the height of the storm and tides, Dezzi said Buttonwood Drive was impassable, most streets near the 6500 block of GMD were flooded and almost all of the Village was underwater. 

Yet after the storm passed and the water receded, not much damage was left on the streets of Longboat Key. 

“By the time 11 a.m. came, a person walking through wouldn’t realize what had happened that night,” Dezzi said. “It was one of those storms that came in quick and left quick.”

Some houses were damaged by water intrusion, but Dezzi didn’t hear of any damage related to fires. 

One of those houses impacted by water intrusion was that of JoDene Moneuse. 

Moneuse has lived on Lyons Lane for 35 years. She said her garage has never taken on water from a storm until the past two years. This last no-name storm, she said, brought almost as much water as Hurricane Idalia

“In my opinion, it was a heck of a lot more than anticipated,” Moneuse said. “It was really bad.”

Future prepping 

With this storm wrapping up 2023, Dezzi said his 15 years working on the island have given him insight on an increase in flooding. 

“It seems every storm that we’re getting, even this no-name storm we just had, we’re getting flooding,” Dezzi said.

On Jan. 25, Dezzi and the department are hosting a meeting with a new community committee at 10 a.m. in Town Hall. The purpose of the meeting, he said, is to talk about what could be done better in terms of storm preparedness and communication. 

For people’s own properties, Dezzi said it’s also important to plan ahead. Making sure homes are clear of anything that can be blown away or float away is a good step in preventing damage. 

Like what happened in the Dec. 27 storm, Dezzi said it’s important for residents to understand that significant flooding could cause them to decide to shut off the power. It’s important then, he said, to remain prepared for that possibility, and to have supplies on hand.



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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