That’s the input from Lee County Department of Transportation officials when it comes to the ditches that line Gasparilla Road between 40th and 48th Streets. Many Boca Grande residents don’t care what you call it, they just want the standing water gone.
The ditches have been full of water since early summer, but that’s not all. A sludge of many colors and pieces of unsightly trash have also accumulated there.
Gary Slusar with Lee County DOT said that there’s nothing they can do until the water goes away on its own.
Earlier this summer, just before Tropical Storm Debby, Lee County began work to dredge the ditches, taking the dirt and residue to the Wheeler Road site owned by the county. They had to stop shortly after beginning, though, when Wheeler Road residents complained that the sludge brought from the ditches was smelly and the trucks were driving too fast.
Now it looks as though it might be October, at the earliest, before work can begin again to clear away the mess.
Even with the mess cleared, though, officials said it wasn’t a sure-fire method to fix the problem.
Because there is no external drainage to drain the standing water, the ditches are actually considered to be “linear retention ponds.”
Some residents are not happy at all with the standing sludge. Some are questioning just whose job it is to clean the trash out of the ditches, if nothing else. Local officials said that it is Lee County’s job to mow the road to the center of the ditch. They can only mow as far as it’s safe, and while they usually pick up any garbage they see, much is out of reach in the sludge.
On the other side of the ditch it is the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Association’s job to mow and pick up trash.
Misty Nichols, the executive director of the GICIA, said they initiated conversations with Lee County DOT in January regarding the problem.
“This ‘ditch’ is located on Lee County rights-of-ways property and DOT asserts that it is engineered to drain water from Gasparilla Road during major storm events,” she said. “The GICIA agrees that draining water off of Gasparilla Road is critical since it is the only way to evacuate the Island.”
Nichols said that after Wheeler residents complained about the debris, the GICIA offered the county use of one of its properties for the temporary storage of material. After a few days of discussion the County declined the GICIA’s offer and went back to work on the ditch, continuing to use the ball field for material storage. Then, after only a few additional days of work Lee County DOT determined the ditch was too wet to continue.
“Since DOT stopped the de-mucking, the condition of the ditch has deteriorated significantly,” Nichols said. “It is unsightly and more importantly GICIA believes it will not be able to function as intended if there is a major rain event.”
The GICIA has taken the next step by approaching Commissioner John Manning regarding its concerns. Earlier this week Manning contacted Nichols to assure the GICIA that he has personally requested that Lee County DOT send the appropriate staff to the island to assess the condition of the ‘ditch,’ and to determine what can be done to alleviate some of the standing water.
“We genuinely appreciate the assistance of Commissioner Manning, and will continue working on this important matter until we feel it has been adequately resolved,” said Nichols.
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