ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — One day after receiving their Notice to Proceed, construction crews were out along the lakes in Orlo Vista setting up fencing to contain dirt in their future job site.
The fencing, along with the arrival of a trailer, pipes and equipment, marked the beginning of the end of a years-long process to protect nearby homes from additional floods.
The mitigation plan was formed after Hurricane Irma devastated the region in 2017. Contractors will deepen the three ponds and reshape the side slopes to create 10 feet of additional flood mitigation volume, install pipes to keep the water levels across the ponds equal and install larger pipes to help pump more water out before major storms.
The project cost will be $23.15 million, according to county records, and will primarily be funded by the federal government. It’s expected to be completed in 2024.
“I don’t know whether it’s going to prevent [flooding], but I’m glad they’re doing what they say,” Clarence Laster, who lives across the street from one of the ponds, said.
Laster’s home is one of the most visible signs of progress in the community. He said FEMA gave him $45,000 for new doors, windows, furniture, cars, a front porch and a fresh coat of paint.
Other homeowners haven’t been as lucky. Many properties still sit empty, with debris piled outside and overgrown weeds snaking around the lawn. One house is being raised up, while many others have been sold to landlords or home flippers.
Eddie Ishman-Davis, a retired school employee, said FEMA has forced her to apply five times and she still hasn’t received any money.
She said she spent $10,000 of money she was saving for her grandchildren to shore up the damaged foundation of her home, re-do a bathroom and replace damaged drywall.
While her home is now livable, she is out of funds to be able to complete the necessary renovations, which would allow her to get property insurance.
“I’m trying to… be hopeful, keep being prayerful and know that it’s going to be alright,” she said.
Laster and Davis both expressed skepticism that Orlo Vista would forever remain dry. Davis, who escaped damage during Irma, called on FEMA to honor its commitments to the community so it could be turned back into a nice neighborhood.
Laster, who bought flood insurance once work was completed in January, said he has no plans to move if water comes for his house again.
“I’m going to do it all over again,” he said. “We live in Florida.”
County commissioners and staff members will hold a meeting on Tuesday, March 21 at 7 p.m. at the Orlo Vista Chamber of Commerce to update the public on the mitigation project.
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