Southwest residents, and city and county officials debate long-term plans for Lake Cane.
Recent months brought residents good news and bad news about Lake Cane in Southwest Orlando. Orange County officials announced they would invest thousands of dollars in cleanup projects on the three-lake watershed, and, within days, residents uncovered the City of Orlando’s plans to drain untreated water from Vineland Road into the lake. But residents took action and put an end to the city’s plans.
“[The county] was going to create a tax district to clean up the lake, where on the other side of the lake, the other government entity is going to pollute the lake,” said Southwest resident John “Lucky” Meisenheimer. “It’s typical government in action.”
Meisenheimer, neighbors and people who join Meisenheimer on his daily lake swims have called the city’s plan “The Mayor Buddy Dyer Poison Pipeline.”“This goes well beyond the borders of Orlando,” Meisenheimer said. “It’s considered a cult swim. For a lot of people coming to Orlando, it’s on their bucket list.” Roland Davis lives on the lake and regularly swims in it. He expressed surprise at the city’s plan and strongly opposed it.“I’d like to see the city and county clean up the lake,” Davis said. Davis, Meisenheimer and more than 150 people packed a community meeting held by the Orange County Environmental Protection Division about a potential Municipal Service Benefit Unit. However, residents continued to ask questions about Orlando’s permitted 5-foot diameter pipe that would bring road runoff directly into spring-fed Lake Cane.The outcry initially convinced the city to place the plan on an indefinite hold. Then residents were notified that the pipe from Vineland Road to Lake Cane was no longer needed. Instead, the city will correct problems associated with the current stormwater system by adding a second 60-inch diameter sewer line parallel to the existing one. Construction is expected to begin this fall.“My only concern is that the parallel pipeline will lead to a parallel problem 20 years from now,” Meisenheimer said.However, the city’s plans may have doomed the MSBU, which would have taxed residents in the Lake Cane watershed up to $210 annually to cover $38,000 in annual costs for additional street sweeping, curb inlet leaf catch baskets, and other programs designed to improve the lake’s water quality. One resident who attended the community meeting voiced his concern for residents taxing themselves to pay for lake cleanup, while the city had plans to pollute the same water.“It happened to be poor timing with the City of Orlando proposal,” said Liz Johnson, a supervisor with the Orange County Environmental Protection Division.According to Johnson, District 1 Commissioner Scott Boyd asked the city to place the project on a temporary hold. The lakes are primarily within the county, except for a few city parcels on Lake Cane. The city obtained the easement for the drainage pipe from the county in 2008.“There’s a lot of history going on, and to have it happen as it did is not a good thing,” Boyd said. “Some of this could have been avoided if there could have been some dialogue back and forth. The communication gap has created an issue.”Boyd and county environmental protection staff have worked for more than three years on a solution to improve the lakes’ water quality. A year ago, residents expressed interest in the MSBU. Boyd secured about $300,000 for water-quality improvements in his district. This includes alum nutrient inactivation treatments for all three lakes, as well as the removal of a sandbar in Lake O’Dell.Eugene Augustin, who has lived on Turkey Lake Road since 1994, called the MSBU a dead issue, as the county funds will give a jump-start to cleaning the lake, and residents fear the city will proceed with the pipeline.“It’s just throwing good money after bad,” said Augustin, who is appreciative of Boyd’s efforts and supports the planned cleanup.Lake Cane resident Chris Young opposes the MSBU and the application of alum into the lake. He voiced concern that the county would be taking over a private lake, in which property owner’s parcels extend into the water. “Anybody putting something in the lake is putting it onto our property,” Young said. “I’m opposed to alum. It kills fish, and it’s not good to swim in it. And we use the lake to swim.”The road drainage problem dates back to the late 1980s, when Turkey Lake Road was widened. At that time, the city built pipelines that carry stormwater to the Lake Cane Swamp area, downstream of Lake Cane, where the wetlands filter it on the way to Turkey Lake and, ultimately, Shingle Creek. But that system no longer functions properly, and water pools in the road during heavy storms.The city became aware of the severity of the flooding in 2003, when city engineer Jim Hunt visited the area during an afternoon thunderstorm and recognized a public safety concern. Two consultants studied the issue in 2006 and 2010, and both recommended the outfall pipe. Years later, the city decided to fix the flooding problem and secured a permit from South Florida Water Management District to put in the 60-inch stormwater drain and not treat the water. Meisenheimer said residents found out when the city requested bids from contractors to perform the work, and they never stopped working to ensure the pipe was not constructed.
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