Gateway Sun

There will be a regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors of the Gateway Services Community Development District today at 3:00pm. The meeting will be held in the GSCDD building located at 13240 Griffin Drive.

I believe the district’s engineering firm, Tetra Tech, and Gateway resident Ed Tinkle will make the strongest statements yet to the board on this issue, urging them to finally take meaningful (and very costly) action to correct the problems with the community’s lakes.

Have your neighbors been talking about this? Are you curious as to exactly what’s going on? Here’s what you need to know about the Lake Bank Restoration Project in Gateway.

What’s all this I’m hearing about lake problems?

It all started when one cranky Gateway resident got tired of the lake behind his backyard being in poor shape. No matter how hard he tried to get the GSCDD to fix his lake, it just never got done.

That resident contacted the South Florida Water Management District in the hopes that they would force the GSCDD to take action.

The SFWMD, because of the complaint they received, had no choice but to order the GSCDD to make sure all of their lakes were in compliance.

So what exactly is the problem?

There’s a few problems. First, a lot of the lake banks are literally eroding. People are losing parts of their property, mostly in their backyards. Second, many of the lakes do not have the correct “legal” slope of 4:1. There is also a new problem emerging that suggests the water quality of the lakes is extremely poor.

I don’t see any lakes, but I see a lot of ponds?

Correct. They’re actually stormwater retention ponds. Their main function is to collect rain water after storms. Without these ponds, some parts of Gateway would probably be flooded dozens of times per year, so even people (like me) who do not have ponds in their yards benefit from the ponds. The term ponds and lakes have been used interchangeably when discussing this topic.

Who’s to blame for all this?

Although it may seem like one tattle-tale is responsible for what could be a $20,000,000 bill to be shared by all homeowners in Gateway, the reality is this situation has been festering for decades. A total lack of a plan and constant “kicking the can down the road” by past and present members of the Board of Supervisors is partly to blame.

The rest of the blame, according to many Gateway residents who have been closely involved with the issue, goes to the developers who built the lakes incorrectly in the first place.

Why not go after the developers?

Many people have asked why Gateway doesn’t just sue the developers to get them to fix the lakes. The answer is two-fold. 1) The main developer declared bankruptcy several years ago and therefore cannot be compelled by a court order to fix anything. So they’d have to decide on their own that it’s the right thing to do. Needless to say, our luck’s not that good. 2) Even if they hadn’t gone bankrupt, the statute of limitations in Florida has long past.

So why not go after the Board of Supervisors?

Although there will be a natural reaction to blame the current members of the board, it’s important to keep in mind that they’re only accountable for a small part of the inaction.

It’s fair to say that most of the blame should probably be assigned to past Supervisors who are long gone.

Besides, the Supervisors didn’t go around and force the pond banks to erode. Nor did they go around and change the slopes to get them out of code. It’s important to remember that.

Four of the current Supervisors, including one who’s been on the board for nearly 7 years, are guilty of inaction during their tenure. But at the same time they’re also the first board who have ever really started to do anything about it. So while there is blame deserved, there is also credit due.

The fifth and newest Supervisor only joined the board in November 2014 and has made it his most important objective during his tenure to find a solution to this problem.

Again, though, a lot of the blame rests on the shoulders of people who aren’t even around any more.

Okay, how do we fix it?

Well the first thing that needs to happen is the Board of Supervisors needs to admit that this problem is far larger than any of them wants to talk about. They were having a hard enough time accepting that $5 million would need to be raised to fix the problems. Back in June 2015, they were presented with the idea that $16.85 million might be needed to be borrowed to fix both erosion and water quality issues, and the board swatted that away immediately.

In hindsight, it’s a good thing they did. Because that $16.85 million figure was based on a guess in my opinion.

And that brings us to the next thing that needs to happen. People need to stop presenting the Supervisors with guesses and start providing them with the actual financial realities.

The first guess was $4 million which we now know turned out to be way off. Picking apart that $16.85 million guess, if you look deeper in to it – what it consisted of was exactly $15,000,000 to do the work, a mandatory 10% increase ($1,500,000) built in for cost over-runs, $250,000, $100,000 and $75,000 in other technical and administrative support.

If you’ve added all that up and come up with $16,925,000 instead of $16,850,000 – you’re not alone.

Math errors in the application aside, exactly $15,000,000 for the work? If they had come up with a figure of $14,870,000 or $15,225,000 then it would be far more believable that real analysis was done and actual numbers were crunched. Instead it was $15,000,000 on the nose?

The other thing that makes me seriously question how much effort went in to determining that $15,000,000 figure is a line from the loan application that is supposed to explain what the money is for, which says: “Lake bank repair for nearly 100 lakes total over 93,000 linear of lake banks.”

Nearly 100 lakes? At last count, there are 64. If your estimate is that far off on that simple but crucial fact, how can we possibly rely on your other estimates?

At today’s GSCDD meeting the Board of Supervisors will be presented with the latest guess: $13,192,000 – which will only be for correcting erosion and slope issues, not water quality.

To their credit, the people who are making this guess (Tetra Tech, Tinkle) went out to each lake and looked at it, rated how bad it was, then based the cost to fix the lake on what they’ve learned so far (cost-wise) by fixing a small number of lakes. They’ve figured out that so far it’s costed $108 per foot of shoreline to fix, and applied that to each of the lakes they visited.

It seems like a decent way to do it, definitely the best way so far, but the only way to get true numbers is to get bids to do the work. Only then will we know how much this whole thing will cost. And only then can the Supervisors make the case to the public and make a decision on how to proceed.

Wait … all these numbers? Bottom line, how much will this cost each homeowner?

That can only be answered once the scope of the work is defined, and the financial aspects are finalized.

What I can tell you is that based on FY2016 figures, for every $1,000,000 spent on the lake project it will cost each homeowner about $165.26. That number is derived from splitting the one million dollars equally among each of Gateway’s 6051.18 EAUs – or equivalent assessment units – and also assumes your home is exactly 1 EAU.

But the number of EAUs in the district changes each year as homes are built, or perhaps some re-zoning occurs, etc.

A basic answer I can give you is that if all of the issues with the lakes are addressed it will cost each homeowner over $2,000.

I would speculate that $3,000 is not out of the question.

I don’t have $2,000 or $3,000 right now. How will I pay for this?

The GSCDD is going to have to borrow the money on your behalf. They are also exploring grants and other funding opportunities from the State of Florida. One thing people seem to agree on at the board meetings is that paying for these repairs should be spread out over 20 years.

Your portion of the loan will be paid off by increased assessments from the district.

Who’s in charge of all this?

Ultimately the five member Board of Supervisors is in charge. But in reality Supervisor Rod Senior has been at the forefront, along with Tinkle, Tetra Tech staff and other members of the GSCDD staff including Elle Harris.

Are they doing a good job?

The problem is that up until a few weeks ago that everyone has been charging forward with bad information and a total lack of experience in this area. So based purely on results, no, they haven’t done a good job at all. If you go over past articles on this website you’ll see we’ve been saying for months that nobody has a clue what’s really going on. That reality is going to come out today at the board meeting.

Here’s the good news: a few weeks ago Tetra Tech, Tinkle and Harris visited and re-evaluated each of the lakes as I previously mentioned in this article. That may be the turn-around point for this project as long as the Supervisors finally acknowledge that this problem too enormous to stick to the $5 million cap they seem to have implemented.

What’s next?

I don’t know. We may get some indication of where things will head at today’s GSCDD board meeting.

What should be next?

Just my opinion:

First, the GSCDD needs to decide if they’re going to tackle only erosion/pond bank issues or if they’re going to solve water quality issues too.

Second, they need to decide if they’re going to trust Tetra Tech, Tinkle and Senior to guide the process of getting bids to conduct the repairs – or if it’s time to bring in an expert to advise and guide the district through this process.

Third, they need to get actual bids and stop working off of guesses.

Fourth, they need to take the case to the residents.

Conclusion

Nobody is happy about any of this. And nobody should be happy.

But the most important thing that needs to happen is the Supervisors, all five of them – not just one, need to dedicate themselves to finally solving this problem.

Yes, it will be highly unpopular and they’ll catch a lot of flack from the residents. There may be political consequences but in my opinion there should be greater consequences if they don’t address the issues.

The Supervisors must get out the message, and for what it’s worth the Gateway Sun will do its part, that it’s not any one person’s fault. Or five people’s fault. And that if the community doesn’t do anything now then the problems will only get worse over time and it’ll cost even more.

Mistakes have been made for 20 to 25 years, and the simple reality is that this current group of residents are the ones tasked with determining a solution.

The longer we wait, the worse the problems will get, and the more it will cost.

It sounds cliche, but we’re all in this together. And whether we like it or not, fixing the ponds is something that has to get done.

About Jeff Kuntz

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Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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