Saturday, Oct. update, 1 p.m.—The city was reporting that water was starting to dissipate in the Woodlands’ section most affected by rising waters on Friday. (See this image of Black Alder.)
In Palm Coast’s Woodlands, the Hurricane Ian emergency is not over, and may not be over for another 48 hours: waters are still, literally, rising in parts of the neighborhood as Graham Swamp overflows. City officials are worried that the water may not stop rising in time to keep it from intruding into some homes.
That led to odd developments there today. Parts of Black Alder Drive coming in from Blare Drive were closed to all but local traffic, and in parts water as high as six inches, at last count, closed it altogether.
City public works crews set up a sand bag filling station for the neighborhood just past the intersection of Oak Trails Boulevard and Black Alder Drive, at the edge of the Graham Swamp Trail. Crews filled bags for several hours until 5 p.m., and delivered some to homes with yards or driveways already waterlogged. Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin went to the neighborhood and spoke with more than two dozen residents.
“It’s been rising all day,” Michael Feldbauer, a long-time resident of Black Alder just a few houses up from where the water was advancing late this afternoon, said as he stood in the road with neighbors, stopping cars from going through. “We were told that we could expect the flooding. The Fire Department had a truck here earlier this morning, checking that area down there. And the city has had trucks going back and forth all day.” One of the neighbors with Feldbauer said she spoke with Alfin when he visited.
The neighborhood residents have never seen water levels this high, residents said. But they were not imagining the nervousness of city personnel driving back and forth through the area, checking on the water: the city is concerned.
The storm left, “but we have received so much rainfall in such a short period of time that as it moves through our stormwater system and kind of settles into the wetlands, it will fill up the reservoirs like Graham Swamp,” Brittany Kershaw, the city’s chief spokesperson, said this evening. Graham Swamp is adjacent to the Woodlands, one of Palm Coast’s oldest neighborhoods. It acts like a giant retention pond, its wetlands soaking up water from the city. But its capacity is not limitless.
“If Graham Swamp gets over-full, it will go and trickle down into the Woodlands neighborhood. That’s the next place that it will head to,” Kershaw said. “So based on our modeling that our stormwater department has been able to develop over the past several years during these heavy rain storms that we’ve had, whether it be a tropical storm or a hurricane, they’ve been able to create modeling that shows them how much water will reach different areas of the city.”
As of Thursday evening, officials had determined that it was likely that overflow water would start seeping into the Woodlands. That’s why evacuation orders were expanded to include that neighborhood. “The fear,” Kershaw said, is that “it’s a low lying elevation in our city, that water will flood the roads, flood the swales, which is how it’s designed and then flood the roads. And if there was so much water that was still trying to reach them, there’s a possibility that it could breach some homes. If those homes are filling with water and the roads are so full, there’s a possibility that even emergency vehicles would not be able to reach them to be able to rescue them. So the evacuation notice was sent.”
Some evacuees went to Rymfire Elementary, which was set up as a shelter. Today, the city decided to stand up the sandbag filling station. Parks and Recreation crews and inmates from the Flagler County jail helped fill bags and stacked dozens of them there for residents to take at will, if they so chose. After 5 this evening, after the crews left, there seemed to be no takers, although there was time yet. The city sent targeted notifications to residents in the neighborhood to avail themselves of the sandbags if they chose.
And they were told: “We do anticipate that your area will receive more water over the next 48 hours.” A lot of residents were able to come to pick up sandbags during the day, Kershaw said. “We’re just trying to get the word out on what’s going on and what to expect.” The city’s stormwater crews are still on the clock around the clock, monitoring water levels. “So that if there’s anything that they can do to minimize the amount of water going through the system that they will.”
There was concern around the neighborhood that the city was releasing floodwater elsewhere, causing it to course into the Woodlands, to keep it from flooding other neighborhoods. That’s not the case, Kershaw said. Ahead of Hurricane Ian last week, the city did release vast amounts of water from its canals to lower water levels in anticipation of the drenching from the storm. The water flows to the Intracoastal.
But the intent was to drain the system. “So I think that there’s some mis-information out there and maybe some mis-interpretation that we have lowered the canals, and that is what’s going to go ahead and flood the Woodlands,” Kershaw said. “That’s not the way that it works. That’s not ever our intention.” Crews work to do the opposite, she said. “Crews immediately started working to close the weirs and close any kind of possible water that can continue to accumulate that could potentially impact the Woodlands.”
Ironically, the city-wide stormwater system worked “better than anticipated” despite receiving near-historic amounts of water, Kershaw said. There was only one report of a home’s garage being flooded in the LL Section, and perhaps one home with water intrusion in the Woodlands. There were no injuries to residents or city crews despite crews’ work through the storm and since. “So we’re very thankful for that,” Kershaw said.