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Sleepy Lagoon residents urge higher priority for drainage improvement

Longboat Key drainage projects are on the way, but the first won't begin construction until 2025.

Northern portions of Longboat Key are typically more prone to flooding. However, the town has other portions of the island that are also low lying like the Sleepy Lagoon and Buttonwood Harbour neighborhoods.
Northern portions of Longboat Key are typically more prone to flooding. However, the town has other portions of the island that are also low lying like the Sleepy Lagoon and Buttonwood Harbour neighborhoods.
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Flooding isn’t a new issue on Longboat Key, but some on the island's North End say that houses flooding is a new problem that's only getting worse. 

That’s what led the Sleepy Lagoon Homeowners Board and Drainage Committee to send a letter to the town, urging for a more consolidated effort for the drainage improvements the town has planned. 

“Peoples’ houses are actually flooding, that’s a fairly new phenomenon,” John Connolly, president of the Sleepy Lagoon HOA, said. “The streets are flooding, but that’s not a new phenomenon whatsoever.”

The town has projects on the agenda to improve drainage in key areas like the Village, Sleepy Lagoon and Buttonwood. But those projects will be completed in phases, and the soonest construction date is early 2025. 

While much of the timeline is dependent on grants, the Sleepy Lagoon representatives feel the projects could be more consolidated in order to push things forward quicker. 

The projects, though, won’t be an end to all flooding. 

“We’re really talking about the rain and the tides, not the hurricanes,” drainage committee member Blythe Jeffers said.

Jeffers said king tides and higher tides have become a monthly occurrence. During these events, and storms like the no-name storm in December 2023, roads in low-lying areas like Sleepy Lagoon often flood and become impassable. 

That’s what the goal of the improvement projects is: to mitigate roadway flooding. 

“The real intent here is to alleviate as much of the impassable conditions from a safety standpoint, and from a protection of property standpoint,” Connolly said. “It will not change the fact that peoples’ houses are flooding.”

Damage to cars trying to pass through flooded roads is what Connolly means when he mentioned protection of property.  

Raising roads is one common element among all the planned improvements. That won’t stop the effects of a large storm surge, but it could mitigate the impacts by dissipating the water to help create a safe passage on roads.  

June McGroary, former president of the Sleepy Lagoon Homeowners Association and one of the founders of its drainage committee, said the no-name storm in December had a big impact on the neighborhood. 

“I went down Marbury (Lane) and people were devastated and heartbroken by the no name storm,” McGroary said. “Some of them already fixed their houses, and had to redo it.” 

She also said that General Harris Street is one of the only ways residents can get out safely. If that's underwater due to frequent flooding, it poses a personal safety hazard. 

After sending the letter to the town, Town Manager Howard Tipton responded and said he agreed that flooding on the island is a top priority. He said he will encourage his team to look more aggressively at available grants to accelerate the process and make sure construction is ready as soon as grants are received. 

“I think we definitely feel as if this has been moved well up the town’s priority list, and I think we’ve been moving in that direction all along,” Connolly said.

Projects in the works

Assistant Public Works Director and Program Manager Charlie Mopps said the town is focused on three areas for drainage improvement projects: the Village, Buttonwood and Sleepy Lagoon.

Grants are in progress for all the projects, mostly coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, though the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. 

“So far, there’s been some pretty positive feedback from FEMA on all these grants,” Mopps said.

Common elements for all three areas include increased road elevation and additional drainage structures, like inlet drainage boxes and check valves.

For the Village, plans also include changes to the water flow direction. 

“Basically, it’s kind of redesigning the stormwater management system,” Mopps said.

Design and permitting for phase one of the project is estimated to cost $800,000, and construction will come in around $2 million. 

So far, Mopps said conversations back and forth with FEMA during the review process have been a good sign. 

“That’s a big thing because we’re seeing these things are starting to move forward,” Mopps said.

For Buttonwood, the town has received a rough cost estimate of $3.8 million for design and construction. About $2.8 million of that cost will be covered by federal funding, but the rest will require grants. 

“That’s when we start to get a little limited,” Mopps said.

Most grants, he said, are dependent on a certain amount matched by the municipality. Mopps said staff will need to take that into account during future budgeting procedures as the projects draw closer. 

But the project that’s closest is in Sleepy Lagoon. The first phase is focused on Norton Street. 

Norton Street is one of the lowest lying in the town, with an elevation of just 1.1 feet. 

“When you have roads that are that low, they’re feeling the effects of tides more frequently,”  Mopps said.

The project is already in the middle of the design phase, and can move right into the construction phase pending grants. 

A $2 million price tag comes with the construction for the Norton Street improvements, and Mopps said this is another instance where he has been going back and forth with FEMA through grant review — a good sign, he said. 

Director of Public Works Isaac Brownman met with Sleepy Lagoon residents during the homeowners association’s annual meeting on Jan. 25. Brownman was joined by representatives of Kimley-Horn to update residents on the progress of the Norton Street project. 

This will be the first project to get off the ground. The first public meeting is set for April 9, 2024 and will allow residents to speak with Kimley-Horn representatives to help understand the project. A second public meeting is scheduled for July 29, 2024.

Plans are expected to be complete around Nov. 5, 2024 and construction is planned to begin around March 31, 2025. 



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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