SEBRING — In the middle of a power outage during last Friday’s heavy rains, Susan Dillow of Foal Path in Sebring got a knock on the door from a deputy sheriff.
Her husband Maynard’s wearable radio-enabled heart monitor had picked up a heart attack — nine and a half seconds long — and the deputy was sent to tell them to go to the hospital immediately.
She had to root around in the dark with a flashlight, gathering up and dressing their two grandchildren who were staying with them, ages 7 and 4.
Then they had an extremely hard time getting out, Susan Dillow said. The deputy had trouble reaching them.
“It was all we could do to get out of the driveway,” Susan Dillow said.
Once they were released after four days in the hospital, they went to the Highlands County Board of County Commission meeting on Tuesday to ask for help.
“I’m lucky he’s here,” Susan Dillow, 65, said. “I’m too young to be a widow. He’s too young to die.”
Commissioners said they couldn’t do much, not without breaking the law.
“I want to help every single person out there,” said Road and Bridge Director Kyle Green at Tuesday’s meeting. “The county went in and did it before (my time). We’re not supposed to spend public funds on private lands. It’s illegal to do it.”
Foal Path is an easement road through private property, not a public road, as is nearby Stirrup Path. Both were put in place to solve an access problem, and provide the only way in or out for residents on those roads and on two other platted roads.
Silver Fox, a rural subdivision of unpaved roads off State Road 66, was developed before the county passed comprehensive land development regulations. It should have had five raised shell roads with drainage ditches heading north into the scrub from Derby Lane, a “frontage road” approximately 500 feet north of the highway.
It has three complete roads instead, and two broken ones — Saddle Path and Mare Path — blocked from connecting to Derby Lane by a bayhead/wetland.
None of the roads are maintained by the county, Green said.
People who bought property on Saddle Path and Mare Path can only get in or out on Stirrup Path and Foal Path, one-lane east-west tracks cut through private property.
Those roads don’t have raised beds or drainage ditches. As a result, runoff digs ruts and deep holes in them after heavy rains — like the ones in the last two weeks.
“The deputy said, ‘This road is unbelieveable,’” Susan Dillow said.
Maynard Dillow said the “hills” in Foal Path are big enough to hide a small car. In places, they dip down three feet or more from the road surface.
Patricia Cox, of Mare Path, said she had relatives “trapped” at her house over Independence Day because of water up to two feet deep.
Saddle Path and Mare Path don’t really have much in the way of ditches, either.
To make matters worse, all-terrain vehicle riders have cut a trail from Queen Avenue, north of Silver Fox in the Wolf Creek area, through private property to Mare Path.
That has let stormwater funnel right down Mare Path and Foal Path, making the road damage even worse.
Green said a man with a Bobcat filled in the exit of that trail onto Mare Path, but it’s washed out several times, and the ATV riders have increased the damage.
Members of the subdivision visited the county commission last October, when post-Hurricane Irma rains had the same effect. The answer was much the same then.
“We need something now. We’re living on a road that’s not drivable,” Isaac Fernandez of Mare Path said on Tuesday.
He said he was told, when he bought there that the county maintained the road. However, that road has not been added to the county-maintained road list.
His father, in his 90s, lives on Mare Path across from Cox. She said Highlands County Emergency Medical Services would not be able to reach him.
Even if residents turned Mare, Foal and Stirrup Paths over to the county as public right-of-way, County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. said the roads need to get built up before he could put in drainage ditches. There’s also the question of where to put the water.
Green said the water could go to Wolf Lake, to the east, but it’s full. Also, if he or Howerton change drainage and cause a problem for someone downstream, they’re liable for it.
That caused problems 20 years ago, Howerton said: The owner of the bayhead dug a ditch to drain it for cattle grazing. The Southwest Florida water Management District said “no,” made him fill it back in and fined hime $10,000, Howerton said.
If the county takes on the roads and right-of-way, Howerton and the landowner would have to apply to SWFMWD to do with the man’s property exactly what got him fined years ago.
Also, Howerton said, a project to fix all the problem spots would run $300,000-$500,000, and the residents can’t afford to pay that.
Green said he “didn’t want to be shot” for saying it, but the county might want to consider a countywide stormwater drainage assessment to handle such costs.
While it made sense to handle all the drainage problems as one system, Elwell said it wouldn’t fly with residents in some places, like Spring Lake Improvement District, where the district supervisors had already paid for and worked with water management agencies to make such improvements.
“We’re ‘between a rock and a hard place.’ That’s the very definition of it,” Commissioner Don Ewell said.