JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - If you've never been in the secret Woods subdivision of Jacksonville, you might easily miss the fact that a tributary to the St. Johns River is just footsteps behind some 15 homes on secret Woods Trail West. Residents there know all too well, and they've been watching Pottsburg Creek with particular anxiety since Hurricane Matthew last fall.
"With Matthew, it went up within a foot of this person's patio," David Theus told First Coast News on Wednesday, referring to Pottsburg Creek and gesturing toward the back deck of a home he says is about 7-feet higher in elevation than the waterway.
Matthew downed nearly two-dozen trees, effectively damming the creek and causing perilously high water during rain falls since last October.
"All these trees that were knocked down, 22 of them from [Matthew] has caused the water to back up even more," he said.
As president of the neighborhood Homeowners Association, Theus – along with others - has been trying to get the logjam removed. He says instead, he's run in to a logjam of bureaucracy, calling one agency after another.
"We'd get shifted from one angency to another," he said. "Well, the problem with that is, when we'd get shifted, they'd wash their hands. By the we we get through all the shifting, we're back to our same starting point."
He says that finally, after Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Labor Day ahead of Hurricane Irma, there's been some apparent traction, including an assessed $100,000 cost to remove the debris. He says with Irma coming, the 11th-hour timing - which happens to also be 11 months after Matthew - is too close for cost comfort.
"So far it looks like it might be about $100,000," he said. "But we've got 15 homes here and if we don't get cleaned out, you can figure, all these homes are over $200,000 each."
Theus says he's lived in Secret Woods about 30 of the approximately 40 years since it was built. He notes a trend of ever higher surges of Pottsburg Creek as newer neighborhoods and St. Vincent's Hospital have gone up nearby, meaning fewer trees and more pavement.
"Back then, we didn't have the problem with all the water coming from all the new neighborhoods," he said.
Residents have been told a crew will arrive Thursday to begin the cleanup. Theus appears optimistic that he work will be done before whatever wrath Irma brings, but he notes that there will possibly be more deadfall to remove soon. He credits State Representative Clay Yarborough among those who've responded quickly in recent days. But, he says, given that he first contacted the Mayor's office last year, his confidence is tempered.
"We are looking for a result, not a runaround and not rhetoric," he concluded.
We also spoke with Representative Yarborough, who urged that in the event of damage from Hurricane Irma or other future storms, residents reach out to recommended disaster response agencies, but also that you may contact your local Representative. If you're unsure how to go about it, click here for contact information.