Article Courtesy of The
By Stephen Hudak
Published January 6, 2021
Frustrated by government inaction, two families in Gotha who have endured three
years of severe flooding around their homes want a court’s help to permanently
fix the problem.
“We tried to work it
out with the county,” said Paul DeHart, one of the
plaintiffs who have sued Orange County.
He and wife Stacey bought their $850,000 home near Lake
Nally in 2017 and now hold their breath whenever it rains.
The couple and neighbors Juan and Yumeris “Mery” Fernandez,
who were forced to abandon their flooded home in 2019, lay
blame on county government in separate lawsuits filed last
week by Orlando attorney J. Christy Wilson, who did not
return phone messages for comment. The lawsuits also name as
co-defendants the Central Florida Expressway Authority, the
state Department of Transportation and the Braemar/Gotha
The properties in west Orange County near
where the Florida Turnpike meets S.R. 408 sit in the Gotha
drainage basin, which historically had “high water events,”
but usually recovered quickly.
A home is flooded on Lake Nally Woods Drive in Gotha.
Heavy rains in the fall of 2019
wrecked the Fernandez’s home and forced worried neighbors to seek answers.
Lake Nally isn’t connected to any natural streams or other passages to help
move water when the lake reaches capacity. The lake’s level relies on
evaporation or groundwater seepage.
At a virtual meeting in September, engineering experts estimated a fix would
cost between $5 million and $9 million.
“I’m not sure any of the solutions are easy,” Orange County Mayor Jerry
Demings said, noting costs and regulatory rules.
The lawsuits seek damages from all three public governments saying they
created or aggravated the flooding issues.
The filings allege the county’s construction of Morton Jones Road created a
berm which has functioned like a dam and blocked the natural flow of water
into Fischer Lake and diverted it to Lake Nally, contributing to more
The lawsuits also allege that expansion of the Turnpike-State Road 408
interchange has caused lake levels to rise and turned the properties into
wetlands because of “constant inundation.”
They also allege landscapers for neighboring Braemar, formerly known as
Gotha /Estates, may be to blame as well.
“Instead of removing growth that is cut, landscaping companies retained [to
cut trees and other vegetation] have routinely dumped the cut material into
the lake illegally, filling the lake and further diminishing its storage
capacity,” the lawsuits claim.
When trees and yard waste are dumped in the lake, it loses storage depth and
holds less water.
While acknowledging the flooding problem — and commissioning a study to find
a solution, county officials do not admit blame. State road-building
agencies declined to comment on the lawsuits, citing policies against
discussing pending litigation.
HOA officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Nearby Nehrling Gardens, the historic Gotha home and land of pioneering
horticulturist Henry Nehrling, has been on flood watch several times in the
past three years as lake water spilled over its banks and snaked into the
late scientist’s prized bamboo patch.
Nehrling planted the patch above the 100-year flood plain to keep it dry.
But water rose in 2019 to levels above those during the super-soaker
hurricanes of Charley, Frances and Jeanne in 2004.
The lawsuits allege rain water containing fertilizer and other chemicals
runs from higher-elevation Braemar yards onto the DeHart and Fernandez
properties, constituting “a physical invasion and taking of property
rights.” The subdivision has 53 homes.
The lawsuits ask for unspecified compensation for property damage, lawyer
fees and costs.
Though Lake Nally and other nearby water bodies often rose during summer
rainy seasons, the properties have never been identified as part of a flood
zone. Dehart told county commissioners his property value was at risk
through no fault of his own.
“No one wants to buy a house that has a history of flooding,” he said.