Polk says there's no easy fix to Imperial Lakes flooding, but long-term fix is in planning

Article Courtesy of  The Ledger

By Paul Nutcher

Published June 16, 2023


Imperial Lakes residents looking for a quick fix to decades-long flooding problems will probably be disappointed.

Joan Pezzani and her neighbors told Polk County commissioners at Tuesday's meeting that they wanted an immediate fix to periodic flooding along Imperial Lakes Boulevard. The boulevard is the only way in or out of the massive 1,700-acre golf course community with housing and commercial developments in Mulberry.


She is concerned that her disabled daughter and the more than 60% of the community's elderly residents may not be accessible by first responders in the event of an emergency.

County officials said Tuesday there is no immediate fix to the problems, but they suggested they might try to expedite a longer-term fix that's in the works. In the meantime, commissioners decided to reach out to the homeowners association of Belmont Park, a small neighborhood within Imperial Lakes that's close to the flood-prone area, to see if the association could dredge a retention pond and a drainage ditch.

But on Wednesday, the treasurer of the Belmont Park Home Owners Association of Polk County Inc. said the association's retention ponds and its drainage ditch are not to blame.

The three retention ponds on the association’s property are maintained and are clean, said Glenn Harshbarger, the BPHOA treasurer and an 11-year Belmont Park resident. The association had also paid to have the drainage ditch cleaned out earlier this year, and yet the flooding continues.

“It definitely seems like a grading issue with the road,” he said by phone. The Imperial Lakes Boulevard slopes downward near the flood-prone area of the roadway and there is a potential for stormwater to linger in front of his subdivision, he said.

Imperial Lakes residents Joan Pezzani and David Kolodziej stand near the edge of an overgrown retention pond behind Kolodziej's home at 4130 Old Colony Road in Mulberry. Residents in the area are pressuring the county to help with flooding along Imperial Lakes Boulevard.

“That problem has been happening – from what I’ve been told from residents who have lived there – 30 years,” Harshbarger said. “It was initially blamed on Belmont Park, and that was the exact reason we got that cleaned out so we could show proof to the county that that part of the ditch was cleaned out, it’s not our issue.”

Harshbarger said he is glad residents are attending county meetings and photographing and taking videos of the flooding because his neighborhood is also impacted negatively by flooding.

“This is a county issue through and through, and it is on them to fix,” he said.

Another resident who spoke at the county meeting, David Kolodziej, 64, of Old Colony Road said there is a nearly 1,000-feet drainage pond behind his and his neighbors' homes that has not been maintained in at least seven years.

"We have another hurricane and we're in trouble," said Kolodziej, who has lived in his home for 27 years. He said recent floodwaters have reached the back tires of his car while it is parked in his driveway.

"It's never been like that, never," he said by phone Thursday.

On a drive through Belmont Park, he added, their retention ponds are all cleaned out just as Harshbarger said. But the retention pond behind his house remains choked with muck and weeds. The association used to spray the retention area but no longer does that.

"I just found out Belmont owns it," Kolodziej said, who has checked with the Polk County Property Appraisers maps that show the unmaintained retention pond is within the association's property.

Harshbarger referred further comment to John Hall at the Lakeland-based Polk Community Association Management, the property owner. A phone message left for Hall on Thursday was not returned by deadline.

Commission Chairman George Lindsey told the residents at the meeting in Bartow on Tuesday that the county was aware of the flooding issue and there was a longer-term solution in the works.

“This community was developed over 50 years ago, and the standard then was certainly not the standard we hold people to today,” Lindsey said.

He hoped permitting and engineering and then construction for the long-term fix could be expedited. The current timeframe is 18 months to finish the project once it starts.

Jay M. Jarvis, Polk County’s director of roads and drainage, has told Pezzani via email that there is a $15 million Imperial Lakes Boulevard Drainage Improvement project in the works to address stormwater issues in the housing development.

Jarvis also said there were no short term “fixes to address this flooding.”

"We have contacted one of the HOA Property Management Companies about cleaning out a portion of the drainage ditch that goes from Imperial Lakes Blvd to the west and an old pond that is on their property as well," Jarvis added in an email on Wednesday.

"It is my opinion that the cleaning of these drainage facilities will not address the type of storm events that flood the roadway but could provide some relief for smaller storm events," he said.

Jarvis also shared drawings of the proposed concept plan that showed the addition of a second concrete pipe for drainage from the boulevard to the parcels the county plans to purchase on the east side of Imperial Lakes Boulevard for stormwater management. The drawing notes say the area devoted to water retention would be expanded by more than 10 acres and the capacity of an existing pond would expanded.