Neighbors Dispute Over Community Lake

By: Candace Sweat; Lanetra Bennett Email
By: Candace Sweat; Lanetra Bennett Email

UPDATE 2-3 6:40PM by Lanetra Bennett

A flooding complaint has started a chain of events for one Leon County community.

Forcing a Lake Warner homeowner to spell out to county commissioners her intentions to sue.

We've been following the story for a few months now of a Leon County woman who filed an application to drain Lake Warner after she was asked to make repairs to a dam on her property.

Now, her attorney is notifying the county and the North Florida Water Management District of intentions to file a lawsuit.

Judith Lyons babysits her grandson several times a week, and says they enjoy going outside to watch the animals.

Lyons said, "Geese, and Great Blue Herons and White Herons and ducks. There's frogs and turtles. This lake makes it possible to see all this wildlife. They wouldn't be here if there wasn't water for them."

Many are worried there won't be water in Lake Warner for anything or anyone to enjoy because their neighbor, Jan Sebastian, applied to revert the lake back to its natural wetland state.

Sebastian's attorney says Sebastian didn't have much choice because the North Florida Water Management District told Sebastian that her unstable dam caused flooding.

To fix it, the attorney says it would cost more than $750,000.

The attorney has now sent Leon County and the water management district a letter of intent to sue.

Bateman said, "One of our issues also is whether the water management district has the right to come to a private property owner and tell her that she is required to maintain a dam for the benefit of all her neighbors at their expense. It simply seems to be arbitrary, unfair, and perhaps unconstitutional."

The claim says repairs are needed on Sebastian's dam only because of repairs the county made to dams on three other lakes in the late 90s.

Lyons' message is, "Keep working on it folks, keep talking. You can find a solution for sure."

Sebastian's attorney has to notify the county and water management district 180 days before filing a lawsuit. Therefore, this latest action is only notification . Bateman says the actual lawsuit has not been filed.

Bateman says he hopes to talk things out with all parties, including neighbors who are concerned about the lake, without having to file the lawsuit.

Leon County Commissioners say they are advised by their lawyer not to comment, and the North Florida Water Management District has no comment at this time.


UPDATE 2-2-2011

New court documents have been filed against Leon County. Those documents are attached to the article above.

REPORTER: Candace Sweat

October 29, 2010 - Jan Sebastian of Tallahassee submitted a permit request to the Northwest Florida Water Management District to have Lake Warner permanently drained to help bring her property up to code standard.

Sebastian says the lake is flooding her yard. Nearly a dozen people in the neighborhood have written letters to the District asking them not to grant Sebastian the permit.

Some say Sebastian's proposal is not worth the long term effects it will have in their community.

"We see all sorts of wildlife out here and we get out in our canoe and paddle around and do some fishing once in a while. So both from an environmental perspective as well as a recreational perspective we' would be losing a lot, and it would also decrease our property values," said Bree VanOss, with the Lake Warner Concerned Citizens.

Sebastian's Attorney contacted WCTV. He says his client's hand is being forced by government regulation. He says she is looking for a solution.

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  • by Astonished Location: Tallahassee on Feb 4, 2011 at 07:28 PM
    I am familiar with this fiasco. What astonishes me is the fact that the woman had inappropriately placed a too small drain pipe in the dam which caused flooding of neighbors houses downstream from the dam. NWFWMD subsequently offered her the opportunity to replace the offending pipe with a larger one, if she submitted a proper engineering plan. The first flaw in her reasoning was that she did not nofify the property owners surrounding the upstream lake who certainly would have contributed reasonable funds and services to the project. The second flaw in her reasoning was the fact that she rejected NWFWMD's offer when she learned that the permit, by law, required her to remove the scraggly trees on the dam. Now she is holding Lake Warner hostage and her attorney is happily building fees. How smart is our tree hugger???
  • by Elizabeth Location: Tallahassee on Feb 4, 2011 at 05:48 AM
    @pete zahut: you have say it all. Lady don't like this then MOVE. seems that u ms homeowner has caused this problem CUT THE TREES down and get over it
  • by Anonymous Location: On Lake Warner on Feb 3, 2011 at 05:47 PM
    The issue here is not that her property is flooding. It is the fact that the Water Management District (NWFWMD) has declared the dam she owns unsafe and that it must be brought up to code. She has made several unpermitted alterations to the dam that have resulted in the flooding of some of her neighbors yards. She claims that it will cost $750k to fix, but everyone knows that number is way overinflated. What's the issue here? She doesn't want to cut down the trees (pines and sweetgums) that have grown up on the dam. That's honestly it. Very sad, but true. Since a dam can't legally have trees on it, the only way she can keep them is to drain the lake permanently, so that the dam is no longer a dam. She's willing to drain a lake, that her house doesn't front but 14 others do, in order to keep these trees. I believe in conservation, but this is ridiculous.
  • by Pete Zahut on Feb 3, 2011 at 12:58 PM
    Ah, the hubris of stupid humans ... this woman needs to take a reality pill. Lady, if you don't like it, move! Haven't most Floridians learned you don't mess with water???
  • by Elizabeth Location: Tallahassee on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:38 AM
    @franklin thompson: no she needs to FIX her property as HER cost,NOT drain the water that was there 1st. glad you don't live in this area
  • by Anonymous on Feb 3, 2011 at 11:38 AM
    drain a lake and send the water where? Lakes are there for a reason and after a year or so it will be filled back up with water. This will impact more than just wildlife but require a new stormwater retention pond built somewhere else to take on the water being pushed somewhere else when it does rain. I bet her attorney is loving this and easy money. House was built in 1975, I am sure the lake was there at the same time and over the years, the county has grown and created more runoff. retaining wall will just push the water somewhere else. Ah, the good old Property Appraiser site where you can find dirt on people.
  • by Franklin Thompson Location: Tallahassee on Feb 3, 2011 at 10:24 AM
    Her yard is being flooded. Give up your canoes; let the animals go somewhere else to drink for God's sake!!! If it was your yard, you'd be screaming too. Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot that it is not 'your ox that is being gored'.
  • by wdyoung Location: Tallahassee on Feb 3, 2011 at 08:05 AM
    Perhaps this was not the case when she bought her home, but when you buy property near any water body, don't you incur some sort of risk that water levels change?
  • by concerned on Feb 3, 2011 at 06:50 AM
    Seems that since the commissioners decided we had enough money to throw away on a "Turtle Tunnel" they can throw some more away for retaining wall. It would please the same number of people.
  • by Attorney Location: Tallahassee on Feb 3, 2011 at 06:30 AM
    There is a doctrine known as "exhaustion of administrative remedies" that counsel for the neighbors should argue in moving to dismiss the lawsuit. This lady doesn't want to maintain the berm that allows the waterbody to exist. Instead, she wants to install culverts and drain the entire area. She is attempting to hold her neighbors hostage by demanding unreasonable financial contribution from them. At any rate, her neighbors will have the opportunity to intervene in the permitting proceeding.
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