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LA-MSID helps Lehigh recover post-Irma

September 22, 2017
Special to THE CITIZEN ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Hurricane Irma has left its mark on Lehigh Acres, and the Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District has been working to lessen the storm's impact and shorten recovery periods, according to officials.

"LA-MSID took early weather warnings very seriously and began preparing its expansive stormwater system to accept as much water from Hurricane Irma as possible," District Manager David Lindsay said. "Our agency has a hurricane plan under which crews conduct dry runs before the start of hurricane season and both monitor and prepare the stormwater system before a storm - no matter the size."

According to Michael Welch, chairman of the LA-MSID Board of Commissioners, emergency response teams have been hard at work restoring a normal balance to the stormwater system in the wake of Irma. Lehigh experienced a 100-year storm, where over 12 inches of rain falls in one day.

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David Lindsay

Rainfall exceeded totals from a 100-year design storm in many places throughout the district, district engineer Lee Flynn said. Lehigh received up to 20.31 inches in some locations during the storm.

Welch noted that as a 100-year-storm, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event that the district had mostly recovered from in a three-day period. He added that Lehigh bore the brunt of the storm as the eyewall passed between Gunnery Road and Sunshine Boulevard with the strongest wind and torrential rain.

Two weeks prior to Irma, LA-MSID began to release water in preparation for an active hurricane season. The amount of water the district is able to release is determined in permits from South Florida Water Management District.

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"The gates to weirs in our storage system (Harns Marsh) were closed prior to the storm and remain closed," Welch said. "Our system is one of the most sophisticated in the state and worked exactly as it was designed to when faced with this much water."

Harns Marsh filled to its full capacity and kept thousands of acres of feet of water out of the Orange River, Assistant District Manager Michael Cook said. Able Canal is the main artery of the stormwater system, with nearly 60 percent of minor draining into it. Water is controlled by a series of structures and moves through the Able Canal to Harns Marsh, then outfalls to the Orange River.

The Orange River is an outfall to the Caloosahatchee. During Irma, the Caloosahatchee experienced elevated water levels due to several factors, including minor storm surge, high tides and sheet flow. Lindsay said the water had to move somewhere, so it backflowed into the Orange River. As a result, the river came out of its banks into residential plots and arteries like the low areas along Cemetery Road.

Additional flooding was noted in northwest Lehigh, near Alivn Boulevard, Abrams Boulevard and Centennial Boulevard. Officials reported that it was caused by internal flows from the stormwater management system, external factors such as vacant acreage to the west of Alvin, road drainage from Buckingham Road and the backup of water on the Orange River.

As a member of the Emergency Operations Center's EastGeo Division, the LA-MSID worked with the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District to help clear roadways after the worst of the hurricane passed. At about 1 a.m. Monday, first responders begin inspecting the infrastructure to ensure the weirs throughout the system were closed and free of debris.

"The board of commissioners held an emergency meeting on Sept. 7 to declare a state of emergency and make operational decisions prior to the storm hitting," Welch said. "The board invited a FGUA representative to provide an overview on how their system was to recover and operate after an impact, such as this, and what LA-MSID's operation center could anticipate."

According to officials, LA-MSID opened its headquarters as a shelter to first responders and those in the community with a need; offered assistance to local veterinarians to house animals in an auxiliary building on campus; helped to clear debris from Lehigh Regional Medical Center; has worked with the Lehigh fire district to address community needs; and has assisted Lee County in recovery operations.

Welch noted that the district also worked with The Salvation Army, various religious and relief organizations and worked with public officials from the federal, state and local level after the storm.

"The district continues to remain active and engaged in Lehigh Acres' recovery - going above and beyond to assist the citizens of Lehigh Acres," he said.

Source: Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District



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