Friday, April 3, 2015

Pinecrest's Public Shaming: Flooding Families


Update, A NEW YEAR ::: January 26, 2017 ::::   STILL NO DRAINAGE!  Building of second luxury home inside development OK'd and nearly finished WITHOUT separate stormwater sewers or sufficient drains inside plat. (More Zika news. Two more species = 3)

Second "luxury home" in progress without a place for the water to go.

Moat land.  December 2015
Cesspool.  May 2016
  • In a novel attempt to eradicate the flooding caused by the botched filling of sumpland, Pinecrest officials banned the term sumpland during a December 2014 Village council meeting. 
  • A year later in December 2015, MOAT LAND materialized. 
  • In April 2016, City bored into limestone aquifer for drainage, risks drinking water. 
  • May 5, 2016, cesspool. Takes days to go down.
  • July 13, 2016.  Florida Department of Environmental Protection cites
    . Page bottom for local meeting with residents.
  • July 28, 2016.  ZIKA!  Area remains WITHOUT A POSITIVE DRAINAGE SYSTEM. 
  • NEWS UPDATE: July 28 —  FDA says stop blood collections
  • July 29, 2016. Nation's first Zika outbreak confirmed in Miami
  • July 30, 2016. Public Health England. Pregnant women stay away 
  • August 2, 2016. 
    C.D.C. Urges Women to Avoid Zika-Hit Miami District

Basics: There have been three floods since Pinecrest permitted five-acres of wetlands for development in 2008. The first occurred in 2008, months after clearing, the second in 2013, after the fail-safe berm overtopped, the third in 2015. The flood in December, just seven weeks after breaking ground, heralded the arrival of moat land. 

Image below added January 21, 2016. 

Above added Jan 21, 2016. Lower left, moat land surrounding 1st of several mansions in progress. The new houses are behind homes of lower elevations, houses built in the 1950-1960's. The small center image from 2008, shows the land being cleared, but still flat, before it was filled and elevated. It had been even with the street. 

Now, guess whose backyards flood? Not to mention the side streets and adjacent neighborhood. The five-acre former sumpland should have been preserved but wasn't .... 
Pictorial history. Pinecrest, (33156) South Florida, USA.Three floods have occurred from 2008 to December 5, 2015 following the filling and elevation of 5 acres of inland sumpland and the city's permitting of the lowland without drainage beforehand.

Pinecrest allowed acreage to be developed in 2008 lacking an outlet for stormwater. The first flood occurred a few months after clearing began in 2008 and the second in 2013, after the newly built, fail-safe berm overtopped. Yet despite these events, the Village approved physical building that began on October 29, 2015, again minus drainage.

A THIRD FLOOD, moat land, occurred December 5, 2015. Images of it are posted on Pinecrest Floods, the main of eight protest sites.  To date, without adequate safeguards and given the irrefutable risk, along with sea rise, water coming up from underneath, building is on-going absent protection for residents. 

A dereliction of duty and complicity hardly covers it. 

May 2015.  Hurricane Season begins June 1

 Author's grandson and friends in backyard. Same area as below.

City approved sumpland filling and elevation without drainage — denies resultant flooding is their fault

Flood after sumpland behind home was altered. October 2008.

After sending the last release, Pinecrest Bans Sumpland, there was a perceptible quiet, a hush so strong that it made you wonder. Had our mayor banned the term not only on account of its perceived ickiness but also because sumpland is a bona-fide wetlands classification, a geomorphic term for a seasonally inundated basin?

I couldn’t help but ask myself what the reaction of the higher-ups would be, say Miami-Dade County, the Federal government?

After all the shenanigans Pinecrest has pulled — the denying, lying, conniving, still rooting for brand new mansions over existing residents, seems like a valid question, don’t you think?

It has taken Katrina’s victims ten years to apply the taking clause in the Fifth Amendment to their favor. This Pinecrest issue has been going on since 2008, albeit on a much smaller scale yet my neighborhood and property have unwittingly become the victims of a city's negligence.

Border image: Overtopped berm, 2013

PINECREST FLOODS, is the first site of seven total. All sites listed below.

The Village of Pinecrest, along with its neighbor, Coral Gables, is a well-heeled community. The zip code, 33156 covers both, and made the top 15 on Forbes list of 'America's Most Expensive Zip Codes.'

Yet the finesse that Pinecrest lacks can be measured in bucketfuls, quite literally, in a lake without drainage that temporally floods city streets and homes.

The background image of this blog captures one of those events: an overtopped berm, a five foot pit not enough to contain run off from five acres of a flawed sumpland filling that flooded a neighborhood.  Water poured to eighty feet under an adjoining home and submerged hot water pipes, the cause, the plumber said the following day, for the cold showers that night. 

That flooding a downpour without wind. 

Could you imagine a hurricane in the mix? A windstorm brewing from your backyard with all that churning water whipping your way? Aimed and waiting? And rather than help, you get excuses, jeers and snide remarks? 

Any idea what that dismissal does to your nerves, knowing your city won't act in your behalf, the home you've lived in for 35 years, a waiting target on account of the botched engineering they approved?

In 2008 the Village of Pinecrest  permitted nearly 5 acres of sumpland without drainage assuring residents they'd be safe because the building code guaranteed it. Pinecrest promised to abide by the code that stipulated water from a development could not encroach onto an adjoining property even as they sanctioned elevating land 2 feet higher than some of the homes adjoining it. This author's for instance. 

Knowing the doctrine of sovereign immunity was at their disposal,  Pinecrest expected developers to design drainage and also pick up the tab.  Huckster tactics getting someone else to foot the bill and figure out where all that water would go. 'Smart move,' officials thought counting on that legal shield.  Even as the land changed ownership several times, developers having tried and tired, one declaring bankruptcy , nothing held the flooding back. The fail-safe last resort berm that was finally built in 2012 FAILED, overtopped in October, 2013. 

Pinecrest permitted the land. Permitted is key. They gave developers the go ahead. Approved clearing, elevating and filling without drainage, or building the berm first or making sure the 'last resort' gully was on the final plan, the plan this author had seen somehow changed without her knowing it. 

And while we and our neighbors faced bona-fide jeopardy, the land changing hands again and again, the city government smug behind that sovereign immunity, denied culpability. Shrugged off responsibility. 

And wouldn't you know it, others suffering a far greater fate — total disaster yet a similar cause — had their day in court.  And now a decade later, ten years after the fact, they got results. 

May 2015: 
5 th Amendment Trumps Antics and Excuses, Government Liable in Area Flooding

Katrina Ruling Breaches Sovereign Immunity

“Homeowners had every reason to believe their government would protect their interests.”

Now a new twist: in an era of climate change induced storms and floods, the Federal Claims Court in Washington D.C. has found the government liable in instances of temporary flooding. The case relates to Hurricane Katrina but the implications are far reaching, the 5th Amendment is Saving the Day.

If you want to know how a temporary flooding relates to the Constitution's Fifth Amendment, please click here.  NYT: And here.

'How does an accidental flood become a taking? Imagine you own forestland downstream from a dam, operated by the Army Corps. If the Corps demands title to your land so it could use it as a field for drainage, the agency will surely owe you just compensation, based on your property’s market value.  And if the Corps, without demanding title, just opens the dam’s flood gates, swamps your property, and converts it into a permanent drainage field, it would still owe you compensation, based on your land’s decreased value. That might be so even if the flooding were temporary, assuming a favorable factual setting and damage that was severe enough. (This last point was explained recently by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, writing for a unanimous Court in Arkansas Game and Fish Commission v. United States. The key is that favorable factual setting. Where temporary flood events are concerned, a court’s inquiry must be very fact-specific; and factors like foreseeability, causation, and owner expectations must all cut the right way. So it’s difficult to know whether a temporary flood event will constitute a taking until a judge says so.

... make no mistake: we have seen a significant breach—a breach in the immunity that public water-management projects [and cities] have long enjoyed against allegations of abuse and malfeasance. In an era of climate-change induced storms and floods, this is a very big deal, no matter how this particular claim gets resolved.'

*** September 3, 2015*** 

Paraphrased email response to author from Mayor Cindy Lerner: 'Oh shucks, we didn't get it right with permitting: the filling and elevating without drainage that we couldn't figure our and oops, neither can the developer?  Tsk, tsk.  Who says water can't encroach an adjoining property? What flooding? Building codes? What compliance? By God, houses will do the trick. When? Any year now, just you wait, hang in there, the pumps will come. 

Stormwater retention meets our codes.'

My city of Pinecrest participates in the National Flood Insurance Program and residents and businesses receive subsidized rates for flood insurance. Rather than finding a solution for the specific and documented risk, my city has abandoned its responsibility to prepare against a definite foreseeable event. They are negligent in meeting their responsibility as a municipality to adequately prevent the flooding of my neighborhood and property.

October 31, 2013 — Halloween— was a night time storm, image taken November 1, 2013. Author's side / backyard underwater, water to 80 feet under home. Image from SW 96 St facing east.

Side yard, normal. Note white fence in image above and below. 
Front view, facing west, author's home behind the fence.

Behind that white fence, the properties adjoin. Authors' backyard the following day, was a night time storm. November 1, 2013.

This and much more so because of ....

Botched land alteration, backhoe stuck in 18 inches of muck

Flawed elevating and filling in progress

FIRST TIME EVER!  Elevated land 2008, berm to come, would overtop.
An unwelcome sump behind author's home, stormwater flooded her backyard.
2013 - After berm, a lake, where will that water go?
This author's backyard became the new drainage plain!

October 2013 — despite solid evidence, sovereign immunity, protected city. 
No action to relieve after this disaster in 2013 to current, May 2015. 
No drainage, capish?

Stormwater topped the berm, flooded neighborhood 

Letter to Neighbors re council meeting Sept 8, 2015

Hello Concerned Neighbors,

Wishing you the best at the council meeting. Not sure I’ll make it, but please keep the flooding issue in mind.  Mayor Cindy still refuses to take action to alleviate and by doing so, she places every homeowner in jeopardy — the liability to the City is enormous.

Pinecrest permitted the acreage in question (72 Ave. and 96 St.) and therefore they are accountable. They may go after surveyors, engineers, contractors, developers, whomever they elect to. But first and foremost they have an obligation to keep us safe.

If interested in that enormous liability, and to better understand, click to the Pinecrest Florida 33156 Floods site and scroll a short way down to September 2015. We have every right to expect our government will look out for our interests re: flooding. Pinecrest Floods and others also show.

The legal case, St. Bernard Parish v. United States relates to Hurricane Katrina and is applicable here, too. Using the takings clause in the 5th Amendment, it ruled that sovereign immunity is no longer a legal shield for cities to fall back on: citizens have every right to expect their government to look out for their interests. In this finding, the takings clause is specific to temporary flooding.

The law applies to situations in which inaction by the government exacerbates flooding from severe weather. It also has broad implications for local and state governments seeking to prepare for – or deliberately deciding not to prepare for – climate change impacts.

For some reason, Mayor Cindy Lerner thinks going against the Department of Justice is a good move.

Considering the immediacy, dredging the upper end of the acreage to serve as a drain basin is imperative.  The urgency can’t be understated.  Two previous floods occurred in October, one in 2008, the other in 2013: images show all.

Councilman Doug has said the community center expansion plan can be reconsidered and I urge you to do so. We need those funds to be spent elsewhere: police and flood mitigation for starters.

Best to you all.

as ever, hope …

Hope Marcus

Lack of Exemplary defines Pinecrest

August 13, 2015 

Dear Pinecrest Officials:

Hope you are well.

I realize the sumpland remains a problem yet that issue doesn’t negate our need for flood protection. To this end, am wondering if the sizable pile of fill just sitting there could be moved and used to heighten the east berm. If not that pile, perhaps another.

Another approach, in addition to, would be to dredge the land on the north end of the acreage. Doing so would alleviate the stormwater rush as it would collect there before flowing south. Obviously, you’d have two lakes without drainage inside the development to meet building codes stating that water must be contained.

Dredging a second lake may seem extreme, but I assure you that given the situation, it is valid planning. An engineer suggested the idea, the viability of it sounder than filling in to begin with. Less preposterous than permitting ten plots for mansions on land lacking drainage that floods.  Less egregious than being told again and again ten luxury sites fit the bill and never mind the existing neighborhood and homes.

Whatever it takes until a permanent solution presents; keeping water inside the development paramount not to mention code compliant.

It wasn’t my wish to go public; I did so reluctantly: you left me little choice but to expose a situation that needed airing. The sumpland mess and the reality of filling and elevating without drainage on land that somehow passed permeation tests with its marl soil and nonabsorbent clay: the wetland that was tampered with; permitted without drainage and since floods a neighborhood. 

The entire situation is larger than Pinecrest; indicates what looms ahead for South Florida while demonstrating the need to preserve lowlands. Plus the necessity of revising building codes with attention to drainage up front.  It is a given that Florida leads the nation in property at risk due to climate change and we are seeing it inland first hand.

The foreseeable apparent, holding a grudge against me is not an excuse for continuing to place our neighborhood in harm’s way. Given what is known and documented, to refuse us relief from stormwater runoff is to deny us the protection of the law. 

No one wants to go there.

Please let me know what the plans are.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Hope Marcus

305 815-4726

Press release dated Oct 2014. Climate Change Summit on MIami Beach.

Pinecrest Ground Zero for Inland Sea Rise 

Development Without Stormwater Drainage at Issue

  • ·      5-acre natural sump becomes a flooding field
  • ·      Platting stayed for ten homes regardless
  • ·      Sea rise forbids storm drainage to canals
  • ·      Standards of 2012 not enough for the rains of 2013
  • ·       No relief for residents in jeopardy

Pinecrest, FL 33156  —  It is hard to remember that the land underneath our feet was once marshland. One inland city, affluent Pinecrest, is attempting to develop former sumpland into homes and discovering how daunting the process can be.  While most populous areas had been filled in decades ago, a chunk of land in Pinecrest remained a natural sump, a drain basin for the mid-century homes built around the melaleuca trees and other water absorbing foliage. There was never a connection to the canals that empty into Biscayne Bay; the sump was the drainage system.

In 2008, the 5-acre former horse pasture was permitted, elevated and filled without a drainage plan.  Drainage: an afterthought to be addressed later. The result of that disastrously flawed platting can be seen on pictorial Pinecrest Floods. Photos show a nearly submerged backhoe and sections of adjoining properties underwater. In 2012 a berm was constructed, yet was breached the following year. The city called that event a fluke. 

That fluke is documented on Pinecrest Floods.

Ten new houses platted on land without drainage

According to Steve Olmsted, Pinecrest Planning Director, “the property has been developed at a level that is consistent with the requirements of the approved subdivision plat and consistent with the Village’s stormwater drainage level of service.”

Homeowner Rose Mendoza who lives catty-corner to the acreage and whose property floods, is unimpressed. “They put cement around the drain next to my driveway and across the street but nothing changed,” she said. “The drains still overflow.  I slipped on my front lawn, couldn’t see the water but it was there.”

A positive drainage system does not exist in the filled swampland or on several streets surrounding it. When the original plans for platting expired, Olmstead deemed a review unwarranted. “The property has been platted and recorded,” he emailed. “Public notice of construction of single-family homes on established residential lots in Pinecrest is not required.  The Village will review all requests for building permits … to make sure that new construction is completed consistent with the Village’s stormwater management criteria.” 

How far does a city go to develop unsuitable land?

In the quest to build, correcting problems beforehand is seen as frivolous and unnecessary, even when obvious land defects have been identified and documented in numerous photographs possessed by the city.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see Pinecrest’s approach is bent,” said neighboring homeowner Curt Christensen. “The city tried it their way and look what happened. Flooded land rose to the level of a lake, a lake without drainage to underneath my home." 

"A natural sump was turned into a flooding field and became approved platting. I’d like to know how this happened.”

You have to wonder.

In October of 2013, the ‘fail safe’ berm Pinecrest constructed the year before failed. Water rushed over the berm that had been built to specifications, the standards of 2012 not enough for the rains of 2013.

“Stormwater gushed over the berm flooding our backyard 80 feet, reaching under our home,” Christensen said. “Botched engineering along with sea rise has placed us at a level of risk that did not previously exist. The city has had a year to consider a good faith measure. Making the berm higher would have been a start, relieved our stress. It would have been the responsible thing to to do.”

“That offer never came,” he said.  “Neither wealthy Pinecrest nor the developer stepped up.”

Christensen believes mitigating the effect of climate change requires a different mindset.

In South Florida, the message is about water, stormwater. Drainage.

“The new normal is a rising thermometer and elevated sea levels. Drainage is key,” Christensen said.

“First drainage. Prove it will work. Higher standards. Drainage before houses.”

Contact: Hope Marcus
Phone: 305 815-4726

Shaming campaign gains traction

January 28, 2014 Pinecrest Floods
April 2, 2015.  New site launched: Pinecrest Below the Surface
April 2, 2015.  New site launched: Pinecrest Underwater
April 3, 2015.  New site launched: Pinecrest Florida 33156 Floods
April 4, 2015.  New site launched: Pinecrest Afloat (with zip code)
April 4, 2015.  New site launched: Pinecrest Afloat
April 5, 2015.  New site launched: Pinecrest Bans Sumpland
April 6, 2015.  New site launched: Pinecrest Awash