Article Courtesy of The
Pensacola News Journal
By Jim Little
Published April 1, 2019
$2.1 million project to control flooding in the Lake Charlene neighborhood
appears to have come back from the dead after the homeowners' association
reversed its position.
The Lake Charlene Homeowners Association
on Monday voted to approve Escambia County's flood project
and to offer the county an easement to replace the flood
gate that controls the water level of the artificial lake
with a weir, allowing water to flow out of the lake faster.
In January, Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill
proposed using eminent domain to take ownership of the small
piece of property that controls the level of Lake Charlene.
But without support from the other four commissioners, that
proposal died, and Underhill said the project was dead until
the HOA changed its mind.
The idea of granting an easement — essentially giving the
county permission to use the private property for the
project — was floated at the January meeting, but at the
time, the HOA wouldn't agree to the change in the lake's
The project, which is being funded by a Federal Emergency
Management Agency grant, would reduce flooding potential to
almost 300 homes and protect 75 homes during a 100-year
flood event. The trade-off is the current level of the lake
will drop by 9 inches.
The county also received a federal grant for $314,274 to
fund the design of the project, and the designs have been
complete since July 2018.
Escambia County is looking to take control of this
flood gate along Lake Joanne Drive in Pensacola. The flood gate
controls the water levels in Lakes Charlene and Joanne.
Underhill sent a letter Monday to Lake Charlene residents
urging them to get their HOA or the county to change its position. He began
his letter by telling residents he had failed to fix the flooding issues in
"I have failed for one reason only — your HOA has taken the extreme and
unprecedented position of hiring a lawyer to prevent the project from
happening," Underhill wrote.
The HOA hired Will Dunaway with the Clark Partington law firm to represent
it as the county made multiple offers to buy the small piece of land.
Bernie Vanosdall, president of the Lake Charlene Homeowners Association,
told the News Journal that the association has been trying to get the best
possible project done for the neighborhood.
"Commissioner Underhill has been strong-arming his way through this whole
project," Vanosdall said. "We've tried for almost five years now to work
with him to try and get with him the best possible project done to try to
minimize any potential flooding in the future. And he has ramrodded the FEMA
project that was pursued before he took office without consideration to the
people that will flood in spite of it."
At a January meeting, Underhill pushed to make a final offer of $21,000 for
the 0.11-acre property — 150 percent higher than the appraised value — and
if the HOA rejected it, to use eminent domain to take the property. None of
the other commissioners were willing to support the idea, and Underhill's
"Failure means 75 homes in your community remain at risk," Underhill wrote
in his letter. "Failure means that the next time these homes flood, we have
only ourselves to blame. That is not the Escambia County I believe in which
Allen Vinson, an engineer with HDR Inc., the engineering company hired by
the county for the project, sent an email sent to the Public Works Director
Joy Jones on Tuesday saying he had been contacted by the HOA and they had
voted to approve the project. The News Journal obtained the email through a
public records request.
Vinson said in the email that the HOA was willing to grant an easement with
Escambia County spokeswoman Joy Tsubooka said the county is waiting to
receive written communications from the HOA on what conditions they want on
Vanosdall said the HOA is still drafting a letter with those conditions, but
said they will essentially come down to the county agreeing to take
responsibility for what it does on the property.
While the HOA has previously been reluctant to grant the easement, Vanosdall
said Underhill's push — which he referred to as "propaganda" — sparked a
renewed interest in the project and prompted a different group of residents
than usual to attend the HOA meeting. He said that's why the HOA ultimately
voted to grant the easement in a close vote.
"There are a number of my neighbors who don't care what gets done,"
Vanosdall said. "They want anything to be done, and many of those people
showed up at our meeting (Monday)."
Underhill said he believes the opposition from the HOA leadership is
motivated by politics as some of the neighborhood board members were
supporters of his opponents in the 2014 and 2018 elections.
"On the one hand, it's exciting that we're actually going to move forward
with the project," Underhill told the News Journal. "On the other hand, it
really does highlight the dirty politics that gets in the way of taking care
of the county."
Underhill said he hopes the issue will be on the agenda for the County
Commission's next meeting on April 4. The grant requires that the project be
completed by March 2020 or the county will lose the funding.
"We have no time to lose," Underhill said. "It's already going to be a
difficult thing to complete this project within the grant period."