Failing seawalls at MiraBay cause division among residents

Published on: May 25, 2016

Published May 26, 2016

Engineer's report and Master Project RFP status.

Engineer’s report and Master Project RFP status.

There’s been much confusion about the failing seawalls in the MiraBay community in Apollo Beach, and who will pay to fix them.

Should everyone who has property there pay, or just those whose land and homes are affected?

Much blame has been shed. In fact, it is so bad that I have received eight emails from residents, all of whom have asked that I not use their names.

Alex McLeod, senior vice president and division manager of Newland Communities, helped me sort out the facts on Saturday afternoon, May 21, which was greatly appreciated.

When the community was built in 1999, a Community Development District called the Harbor Bay Community District was put in charge of running the everyday operations. This was composed of staff and residents but is now comprised of only residents, McLeod said.

A CDD is the local unit of special-purpose government to provide for planning, financing, constructing, operating and maintaining various public improvements and community facilities within a specific community.

The original CDD hired a designer and contractor to build the seawall, McLeod said. But it proved faulty, and in 2007 the CDD sued and received $8.7 million dollars compensation to fix it.

The job was never done.

New bulkhead with refurbished cap alternative.

New bulkhead with refurbished cap alternative.

Instead, CDD members decided to have another study done on the best way to fix the community’s seawall, sometimes called the “retaining wall.”

Now the CDD Board has approved a “fix” that will result in a $20 million-plus bond having to be issued to cover the costs.

Legal issues and ethics violations are now pending over this part of the story and will not be addressed at this time.

However, the seawall is failing; the wall sheets are bending, causing the concrete cap at the top of the wall to rotate.

The project is intended to repair or replace, or to give more support to the wall, whichever the structural engineers say is needed.

The CDD’s engineer’s presentation describes two options, now referred to as Option 1 and Option 3, but each option has pros and cons that have the community divided on what should be done.

There is also a CDD Finance Team analyzing various methods available to the district for financing the project.

Residents who are not affected by the seawall, and some who are but feel it should have already been fixed with the $8.7 million, called in the help of the original developer, Newland Communities. Since Newland has since acquired Terrabrook LLC, some are confused as to who is the community’s owner.

The answer is neither.

Newland built the roads, home sites, amenities and landscaping, and its “on-site” division, Terrabrook LLC, manages these things. But according to McLeod, the company does not own the seawall because it was built by people hired by the original CDD board.

McLeod said,“We are very concerned, though, as property owners in that beautiful community, that current residents and future residents will not benefit from the ‘fixes’ being suggested and asked the CDD if our engineers could work with theirs to make sure the proper thing for everyone gets done.”

One thing everyone agrees on is that without action now, the longevity and durability of the retaining wall system is uncertain. Soil movement could occur, and some homes may even be damaged.

Although I received eight emails from different residents on this subject, each and every one asked that their name not be used.

“It is going to be such a contentious issue, I can’t become involved,” one said.

I asked why and got several answers.

The residents who are sending these emails (and signing them) say there is eventually going to be a court case, and they do not want to be involved for that reason.

Meanwhile, several have said “The CDD Board claims that homes in the area of Section I (of the three sections in MiraBay) will be fixed, which will leave Sections II and III without a permanent fix. They will require ongoing annual maintenance work, the cost of which remains unknown.”

“There will be disparate benefits in the corrective work among the various property and homeowners in the community,” wrote another resident.

Newland/Terrabrook says it, too, feels the approach being used is unfair to those who live and own property in areas not along the seawall. “We also remain concerned that the far west side of the seawall near the carry-over boat lift is not being addressed at all.”

The MiraBay CDD currently encompasses approximately 764.637 acres of land. It owns and operates the common areas, recreational facilities, public roadways, storm-water management systems, street lighting, landscaping and more.

To finance the district’s budget and bond repayments, a non-ad-valorum tax assessment is collected along with annual property taxes.

Several public hearings have been held in the last few months — each giving a variety of solutions to the seawall situation, which continues to fail.

Meanwhile, residents who do not live along the seawall wonder if they will have to pay costs even though their property is not affected.

“This is extremely unfair,” said another resident who asked that I not use her name. “It is going to get so embroiled, I don’t want to be involved at all.”

The seawall is divided into three sections: Section I has 230 homes; this is where the majority of homes affected by the failing seawall are located, and where emergency repairs were approved. At the board meeting April 21, the board approved the brand-new seawall as a fix for all the lots in Section I, regardless of the engineer’s assessment.

Section II has approximately 130 lots, of which about 50 percent are owned by Newland/Terrabrook.

Section III has yet to be developed.