Raising a stink over lagoons
Upkeep an ongoing battle in Oak Bridge

By Lisa Woods - Shorelines staff writer 
Article Courtesy of the First Coast Community
Published July 27, 2002 

Some residents of the Sawgrass Players Club's Oak Bridge subdivision say the lagoons by their homes stink and no one will do anything about it. 

"Sometimes you sit in the backyard and it smells like crude oil," said Oak Bridge resident Sierra Steele. "You can see this film over the water and the smell is atrocious. I've never seen anything this gross and polluted." 

The lagoon Steele refers to is part of a system of swales and inlets that control water levels in the Players Club. The Players Club homeowners' association, called the Master Association, is responsible for maintaining the water flow of the system, but does not have to maintain the banks, said Joseph DiCarlo, chairman of the Master Association's Operations, Maintenance and Waterways Committee.

Oak Bridge resident Sierra Steele
shows a jar of mud she's collected
from the lagoon in her back yard.
Steele says the lagoon is polluted
and sometimes smells like crude oil
"We try to lean in favor of the homeowner but we may not be able to please everyone," DiCarlo said. "But we do not maintain the banks; it's the responsibility of the homeowner."

Lagoon upkeep has been an ongoing battle between Oak Bridge and the Master Association. Resident Rick Mansfield said Oak Bridge has asked the association for relief and has been stonewalled at every attempt. 

"We definitely have a problem," Mansfield said. "We have had it for some time, and have pleaded, begged and said please and it has pretty much fallen on deaf ears."

Master Association officials said some of the complaints resonating from the Oak Bridge subdivision are related to aesthetics. Master Association attorney Guy Bond said legally they cannot do any work on the lagoon unless it's water-flow related.

"Oak Bridge needs to deal with the aesthetics, it's not the Master Association's job," Bond said. "If there is an impediment to the water flow, the Master Association has to take care of it."

But Mansfield said his problems have nothing to do with beauty.

"The canal here in this area is mostly swamp, and will turn into a swamp if nothing is done about it. The Master Association refused to recognize this problem. What it does best is plant flowers along the boulevard; it seems to have plenty of money to do that."

Everett Ogden, who just built a home in Oak Bridge, said he is feeling the pinch of living in an an older, less popular neighborhood. 

"People look at Oak Bridge as being a stepchild," Ogden said. "The back side of my house is covered with mosquitos wall-to-wall, I've had dead birds in my yard, but they refuse to help us and have said they are not going to spend 10 cents on our community." 

Aside from the smell, Steele said she has noticed more dead wildlife floating in the water.

"I've called May Management and told them endangered turtles and fish are dying," Steele said. "They [Master Association] are not keeping up their end of the bargain. ... When you start seeing dead turtles in the water you start to get concerned."

Gus Pocius, head of the Water Management Committee of the Players Club Waterways Association, said he is not aware of any turtles or other animals dying in the canal.

"To tell the truth, I haven't heard or seen anything about fish dying," Pocius said. "This has been an ongoing struggle between the Oak Bridge Homeowners Association and the Master Association about keeping the water clean and high."

A St. Johns River Water Management District biologist told Mansfield in a letter that the homeowners' association is responsible for operating and maintaining the surface water management system. Maintenance includes taking care of the pump stations, lakes, swales, pipes, weirs, storm water ponds and pond banks. Upkeep starts at the top of the bank, not at the normal water line.

"Because the Master Association is the permit holder, that is who we will hold accountable," said Teresa Monson, spokeswoman for the St. Johns River Water Management District. "If there is a problem, they may have an internal process where they divvy up responsibilities, but that would be an internal decision. At the end of the day, we hold them [Master Association] responsible." 

Mansfield said he won't wait much longer for the Master Association to clean up the lagoon.

"The Master Association has done everything to not address the problem," Mansfield said. "They are turning into cesspools, and if necessary we will go down to the county about it."