By Jeff Odom
When Tropical Storm Debby sat over the Tampa Bay area dumping large amounts of rain, Lutz resident Frank Muniz found the access road to his home and yard covered with standing water.
Muniz is still dealing with the storm’s aftereffects two months later.
Across the street from Muniz’s home on Crooked Lane is the Oscar Cooler Sports Complex. There, water has filled an area that was commonly used for warm-ups and team photos during the Little League baseball season.
A crushed culvert, or a drainage pipe that allows water to flow under roadways, blocked by a bag of cement is preventing the area from clearing.
When it rains in the afternoon, Muniz said the water spills through the chain link fence and over the dirt road in front of his driveway, killing parts of the vegetation in his yard, including an orange tree.
“It has nowhere to go,” Muniz said. “I’ve called the county multiple times and nothing has been done to fix this. There’s a mound of debris from when they removed an oak tree. It’s been piling up for two and a half years.”
Hillsborough County Public Works spokesperson Steve Valdez said the damaged culvert should have been taken out years ago and that the county is doing its best to fix it.
“That culvert has not been part of our storm water system for over a decade and should have been removed,” Valdez said. “We’re in the process to redesign and change elevations in that area and get all of that water moving west.”
Muniz said the pavement can be flooded with up to 10 inches of water at the turn off onto Crooked Lane from W. Lutz Lake Fern Road, making it invisible from a far distance. With no sign warning drivers, some usually speed around the corner.
“It’s a dangerous spot, especially with kids around here learning how to drive,” Muniz said. “There’s nothing to warn you. No sign, and you can’t see it until you’re right on it, and they think everything is fine.”
When Muniz attempted to contact Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist, District 2, to come look at the situation, he said there was no response. He added, other neighbors have done the same.
Along with the safety issue, Muniz is also worried that the ground will become so saturated that there will be problems with the septic tanks, which everyone on his block uses.
“I’m concerned at the raw sewage; where is it going to go?” Muniz said. “(The county has told others) that they’d get on it as soon as possible, but then they give a six-month timetable.”
With the rainfall levels so extreme, Valdez said the storm water system is only designed to take in a regular rain event. He added, the county will not pump out the excess water across from Muniz’s property.
“Everyone is dealing with a flooding issue of some kind,” Valdez said. “We’ve had 41 inches of rain to date. Our normal average is 21 inches.”
Muniz wants the county to take more action to help him and his neighbors now that the rainy season is coming to a close.
“We just want help,” Muniz said. “It’s started to go down a bit, but those aren’t even ditches anymore. They’ve become retention ponds.”