Drainage project sparks backlash, Escambia County considering eminent domain

Article Courtesy of  ABC Channel 3 WEAR TV

By Hannah Mackenzie

Published January 15, 2019


ESCAMBIA COUNTY — Escambia County is fighting back against flooding.

To improve drainage, the county is moving forward with a storm water management project in the Lake Charlene subdivision.


However, not everyone is happy about it, and eminent domain over a small piece of land is now being brought into question.

Initially, the county offered the Lake Charlene Homeowner's Association $14,100 for the land. They upped the offer to just under $17,000 when the H.O.A. declined, citing money is not the issue.

A member of the home owner's association, who didn't want to speak on camera, told us the county is creating a band-aid solution, for an issue years in the making.

Back in 2014, the Lake Charlene area saw major flooding and dozens of homes were damaged.


Now, the county's response is to buy a small area of land belonging to the home owner's association, and add two 60-inch drainage pipes near the flood gate on the lake. The drainage pipes would lower the water level by about nine inches.

Rejecting two offers already, the H.O.A. is not on board. The county wants to move forward anyway, utilizing their seldom used power of eminent domain to acquire the land.

"We must remove a larger amount of water from Lake Charlene," said Escambia County Commissioner, Doug Underhill. "And increase Lake Charlene's ability to absorb a rain event."

The H.O.A. has hired attorney, William Dunaway. Dunaway declined an on-camera interview, but did send Channel 3 News this letter detailing the association's 'surprise' at receiving the land purchase offer, considering "the county's misuse of Lake Charlene as a de facto holding pond for storm water drainage from surrounding neighborhoods without proper legal authority."

One Lake Charlene resident told us the H.O.A. does want to work with the county, but they don't think all avenues have been looked into.

One suggestion: concreting a county-owned culvert to improve drainage, or simply maintain it. Another suggestion: divert the storm water before it ever enters the lake.

"We've modified the plan every time to take into consideration those things that the homeowners there wanted. Somehow, they believe that dropping the water level nine inches in that lake will somehow affect their property values or in some way will affect the view from their kitchens," said Underhill.

If approved, the plan is estimated to protect 75 structures from flooding and reduce the frequency of flooding on 266 properties.

In an effort to avoid the eminent domain process, Commissioner Underhill says he is making another offer to the H.O.A. tomorrow night at the board of county commissioner's meeting.

Underhill says he will double the county's initial $14,100 offer.