'Monster' snakes invading Florida's flooded fields

The Miami HeraldFebruary 15, 2012 

The snake was coiled, and hissing.

Clarke Lane had just stepped off his tractor and onto the flooded field he had been mowing in western Pembroke Pines.

“I thought I stepped on a nail,’’ the 18-year-old said.

But beneath the murky water lay the water moccasin, which had bit Lane in the right foot and resulted in a three-day stay in the intensive care unit at Miramar’s Memorial Hospital.

Lane, a senior at West Broward High, has since recovered and returned to school and his regular chores, which include mowing the fields around his father’s palm nursery about a mile east of U.S. 27.

But the water moccasins remain, especially when the area is flooded, which is often, and that concerns Lane’s father, Howard Lane, who said Pembroke Pines officials have broken promises made when the city annexed the area in the 1980s.

“They said we would get sewers, drainage, city water, lighting, a bunch of other stuff,’’ Lane said. “I’ve been fighting with them over the past 15 years. ... It’s always the same stuff. They don’t have money, but they have money for everything else.’’

Pembroke Pines annexed most of the area west of Flamingo Road, between Pembroke Road and Pines Boulevard, in 1981, said City Manager Charlie Dodge, who has worked for the city in various roles since the 1970s.

At the time, Dodge said, about two dozen people lived in that area, and they voted to approve the annexation but otherwise wanted to be left alone.

“They wanted their rural lifestyle,’’ Dodge said. “They didn’t want paved streets. They didn’t want street lights. They didn’t want sewer.’’

Howard Lane’s memory tells a different story, though. He said former Mayor Charles Flanagan, who died in 1995, visited his parents’ home twice and promised the city would provide all utility services to the neighborhood, and build an extension for Pembroke Road to run just south of the Lanes’ property.

Howard Lane grew up in the neighborhood just west of Southwest 196th Avenue and south of Pines Boulevard during the 1960s and 1970s, when it was mostly farmland that his parents owned. They planted pole beans, onions, cabbage and other crops. The land, he said, never flooded.

Over several decades, though, the character of the area changed. Farmland was subdivided, sold to developers and turned into housing tracts. Lane turned what remained of the farm into five nurseries, including one at the south end of Southwest 196th Avenue.

It is that nursery that floods most often, and where Clarke Lane was bitten by a water moccasin, which he said can be seen slithering across dirt roads and between palm rows during floods.

A few days after Clarke Lane was bitten, Brandon Kuse, 18, and a group of friends combed the fields for water moccasins and killed five of them, including one 59-inch-long snake that the Lanes believe may be a state record.

“It’s a monster,’’ Kuse said of the snake.

Even during dry spells, the dirt road is often under two feet of water, and infested with the snakes, Howard Lane said.

“It’s a health hazard,’’ he said of the water moccasins and mosquitoes drawn by flood waters. “It’s 20 feet from homes. There’s little kids here.’’

Flooding was not a problem in this west Pembroke Pines neighborhood in the beginning, said Joan Tryonoviech, who has lived in the area since 1978.

When Tryonoviech moved to her home on Southwest 12th Street, there were five homes in the neighborhood. There are about 30 now. As the new homes were built, Tryonoviech said, building codes required higher elevations in order to accommodate septic tanks because the neighborhood does not receive municipal sewer service.

After the newer homes were built on higher elevations, the older homes on lower ground collected more water.

Now, Tryonoviech said, a day of steady rain will inundate her yard, and she’s forced to call the city’s public works department to pump out the water.

“I feel like I live in a moat,’’ she said. “And not to say the least, the mosquitoes.’’

Commissioner Angelo Castillo, who represents the area, said he does not dispute Howard Lane’s account of a promise made to residents by the former mayor. But there’s a problem with it.

“That promise has not been recorded anywhere in the city in writing,’’ he said.

Castillo said he has met often with neighborhood residents about flooding, and that he believes Lane’s version of the story.

“Too may of them have told me about this promise, in my opinion, for it to be a lie,’’ Castillo said. “However, the people at city hall have taken the view that if it’s not in writing, it’s not a promise. And just because the [former] mayor made it, it never was never voted on.’’

Voters did, however, approve a bond referendum in 2005 to pay for the city to build an extension of Pembroke Road to Southwest 196th Avenue, and to connect Pembroke Road to Pines Boulevard via Southwest 196th Avenue. Before proceeding, though, the city must obtain right-of-way easements from about 10 property owners in the area, including the Lanes.

The $5.25 million road extension is intended to relieve traffic congestion on Pines Boulevard, Dodge said. It will also help prevent flooding in the neighborhood because the city will dig swales to drain water into a nearby canal.

But there’s a catch for the Lanes: The bond money cannot be used to pay for drainage of his nursery because it is considered commercial property.

And even if the bonds could be used to pay for drainage of the Lanes’ commercial property, Dodge said, environmental regulations require that water from a nursery be treated for chemicals, fertilizer and other contaminants before it enters a canal.

Howard Lane is not buying those explanations, though. He said the city must live up to its promise to provide drainage for all the properties before he grants a right-of-way easement for the Pembroke Road extension.

“It’s all or none,’’ he said.

To read more, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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