The town of Oakland has agreed to lead the mission to determine what course of action needs to take place to remedy the serious property issues that have arisen because of changing flow patterns in the Johns Lake Outfall Canal — and exactly who will be responsible for the costs. Commissioner Mike Satterfield stepped up to lead the discussions during the Tuesday, Jan. 24, Oakland Town Commission meeting.
Several lakefront residents whose shorelines are affected by outfall runoff were in attendance to voice their opinions and demand solutions.
Town Manager Steve Koontz made a presentation that included the background history of the canal and the current issues.
The flow in the canal varies from year to year based on weather conditions or extreme weather events such as hurricanes — but, in general, the canal has remained natural with few improvements. Erosion is evident, as there are places where there are 20-foot-deep caverns. A report issued to the commission stated: “Recent storm events have increased erosion and has most likely caused silt and sediments to be deposited in Lake Apopka in front of residences in the town of Oakland, impeding access to the lake.”
The report stated recent efforts have been made to get discussions started. Landeavor, the developer of Oakland Park, has set up a series of meetings with stakeholders to discuss the canal. The developer also met with town staff and officials from the St. Johns River Water Management District to explore the possibility of a cost-sharing grant, but it was determined sediment removal would not qualify under the grant conditions.
Koontz also has discussed the issue with staff from Orange County Commission District 1, the county’s public works director and Friends of Lake Apopka.
He said there are two major aspects to the outfall canal issues: the rerouting of the flow, slowing down the velocity of the water and the removal of sediment at the terminus of the canal; and the long-term funding, stabilization and maintenance of the entire length of the canal.
There are many challenges, Koontz said in the report: Most of the canal is on private property; there is little public access for the long-term canal stabilization and maintenance; there is no funding for design, permitting and construction for capital improvements and no funding for long-term maintenance; and permitting would have to be done through SJRWMD and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Koontz said Orange County has told Landeavor it will have to make improvements to the canal, which runs along the west boundary of the neighborhood. JRWMD also is requiring Landeavor to do stabilization work, he said.
“I have been in discussions with Oakland Park, and they want to be a good neighbor,” Koontz said. “It’s not Oakland Park that’s causing the problems.”
Prior to the 2018 hurricane season, the canal outfall went straight into Lake Apopka, he said, but then the sediment began filtering and filling in to the west of the outfall.
'DAUNTING TASK OF THE CENTURY'
Homeowners Bob Christie, Ward Britt and Angel Cardinas live on Lake Apopka closest to the canal outfall and said they have suffered the most.
Christie said he has lost $140,000 in value on his property because of this issue. He blames Oakland Park for not having its silt fences in place prior to the start of development and the land-clearing process.
“That’s why the sand has moved another 200 feet to the west,” he said. “It moves 10 to 15 yards in three weeks.
Christie asked who would be in charge of moving forward with this issue. Satterfield agreed to be the point man for discussions; Stark reiterated that any action would be on behalf of the town of Oakland and not for any other municipalities involved.
“I will be as much a solution as I will be a problem if it doesn’t get fixed,” Christie said. “I will do my part to do what I can to get this done.”
Britt is unable to get his boat out of his dock because the silt and sediment is so high it has left him with mere inches of water under his dock.
Local fishing guide Carl Summers told the commission he has witnessed clogging in areas of the canal that restricts the water flow. He suggested bringing in floating tractors to remove the clogged vegetation and clear a path through the trees.
“This is going to be the daunting task of the century — to get some kind of maintenance on that canal,” Satterfield said.
Rick Stuebing, president of the Johns Lake Association, said he attended the meeting to “make sure everybody understands how serious this problem is.”
Following the last two serious storms, the lake was closed for one month each time, he said, half the residents’ docks were under water.
Stark said town officials had set a meeting with Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson for this week to see what involvement the county will have.
“If Orange County isn’t going to quarterback this, they need to at least be a partner in it,” Koontz said.
He said SJRWMD has committed to sharing some costs as well.
The commission authorized Koontz to investigate the costs of moving the canal to a different point and removing some of the silt.
“It’s a bigger issue than the town of Oakland, but, unfortunately, because it’s in the town, it has looked like it’s ours,” he said.
“All I would ask is that we get that ball rolling so we can stop it from getting any worse,” Satterfield said. “Let’s move this along fast because in a few months we’re going to be in the rainy season.”
“I don’t want us to lose sight that is not just an Oakland issue … it’s a Johns Lake issue, and we need to be good stewards of both because they’re both within our boundaries,” Stark said.
“I feel like these are going to be ongoing meetings and every couple months we should have updates at these meetings,” she said.
JOHNS LAKE OUTFALL CANAL BACKGROUND
The Johns Lake Outfall Canal likely was manmade more than 70 years ago for agricultural purposes, according to town of Oakland officials. It helps control high-water levels in Johns Lake — which is a closed basin — by moving overflow water north to Lake Apopka.
The Johns Lake Basin is about 16,284 acres and falls within multiple jurisdictions: Oakland, Winter Garden, Orange and Lake counties, Ocoee and Clermont. The canal path is about one-and-one-half miles long, but most of it is located on private property and impacts about 42 parcels. The town of Oakland owns one section about 900 feet in length.
Portions of it go under the Florida’s Turnpike, West Colonial Drive and the West Orange Trail, and the homeowners associations for the Southern Oaks and Winters Landing subdivisions own portions as well.
According to the town, there are no requirements for private property owners to stabilize and/or maintain the canal.
In 2016, the town and Orange County entered into a Joint Planning Agreement that contemplates the Johns Lake Outfall Canal. As part of the agreement, it was acknowledged that “neither party directly owns any of the lands throughout which the Motamassek Ditch (Johns Lake Outfall Canal) passes, nor has an obligation, whether written or otherwise, to provide for operation and maintenance of this ditch.”
In 2021, Orange County’s Stormwater Division completed the first phase of a study and conceptual design to provide lake-level management strategies for Johns Lake and the canal. The summary and conclusions included discussion concerning stakeholders’ responsibilities for capital improvements, property acquisition and future maintenance, as well as potential funding through grants or municipal service taxing/benefit units.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
• The Town Commission proclaimed February Black History Month.
• Commissioners approved the consent agenda, which included acceptance of the vision plan for mixed-use — multifamily villages presented at the Dec. 13 work session; and a special exception for the Oakland Nature Preserve to serve alcohol at its Pours at the Preserve event Feb. 11.
• The commission adopted a revised fee schedule for planning project application reviews and site construction permitting. This new schedule restructures the commercial and multi-family site development plan, reduces the total cost of processing small annexations, and lowers the per-unit fee for commercial and multi-family developments. This also allows the town an opportunity to extend the online platform for these application reviews and permitting.