POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — After Hurricane Idalia hit Florida, rain water flowed onto Imperial Lakes Boulevard in Mulberry, as it does after nearly every heavy rainstorm.

“I’ve lived here approximately 38 years and this has been flooding for approximately 38 years,” said J. Paul Alvarez.

Alvarez could not drive home through the flooded waters. Instead, he left his car at a nearby Publix parking lot and walked home.

“I’m going to say we had at least 2 [or] 3 feet of water,” said Teresa Christie. “It was horrific. We had a bunch of people that were not able to get home. We had a bunch of people who had to stay in hotels.”

Christie has been gathering support from neighbors and, this week, took her concerns to the Board of County Commissioners.

“It’s horrible. It’s a drainage issue. It’s not a flooding issue, it’s a drainage issue,” she said.

The boulevard, which is the only entrance and exit for hundreds, if not thousands, of homes inside the Imperial Lakes subdivision, has flooded during heavy rainstorms and tropical storms for years.

Courtesy: Kimmie Weaver

Commissioner George Lindsey said, until now, it was an “unfunded” priority.

“There was no money there to do it. There were other equally important projects that were ahead of it in other parts of the county,” he said.

At this week’s commission meeting, Lindsey quipped that Gov. Ron DeSantis could get a temporary bridge built in Lee County in 30 days after Hurricane Ian but the county has not been able to dig a hole for a retention pond in two years.

“It was a bit tongue and cheek but it was symptomatic of the bureaucracy it takes to get things done,” he said.

However, Lindsey said, with the availability of $8 million in federal American Rescue Plan money and the 12 hours of flooding from Idalia last week, work to secure both temporary and permanent solutions has been expedited.

“This is one of my top priorities is to make sure that this is, at least the short term solution is finished and done by then, and hopefully the long term solution also,” he said.

This week, the county manager directed the Roads & Drainage department to take action for a temporary solution as hurricane season remains in full swing.

“The directive from the county manager was this is a high priority, get it done so that’s what we’re doing,” said Jay Jarvis, Polk County Roads & Drainage director.

Jarvis said his department will now work to gain permission to clear out ditches and canals owned by homeowners’ associations to improve drainage.

They will also work to find pumping and temporary storage solutions.

“I’ve told my staff that if we need to, we can work overtime and start working on this and try to get it going so we’re hoping by sometime either Friday or Saturday we’ll get all the permission and be able to at least start working on it and people will see stuff going on,” said Jarvis.

Meanwhile, the county purchased ten acres of land to build a retention pond, viewed by officials as the long-term solution to relieve the drainage issue.

That project could be completed by the middle of next year.

“As soon as we can start the excavation process, we’ll start seeing progress,” said Lindsey.