HOBE SOUND — More than two years after the Hobe Heights neighborhood was hit with an unexpected 2½ feet of rain that started on Memorial Day, it weathered Hurricane Ian mostly unscathed.
The neighborhood was part of the Martin County majority, experiencing minimal impacts with 4 to 6 inches of rain and tropical-storm-force winds, according to county Public Works Director Jim Gorton. Tropical Farms and Palm City Farms areas, which saw almost a foot of rain, were the exceptions of isolated flooding.
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County officials readied their largest pump in Hobe Heights in preparation for Ian, but it never had to be used, Gorton said.
“Hobe Heights fared very well. There was very little water in the retentions at the end of the storm,” he said.
After about 30 inches of rain overwhelmed the area over 12 days in late May and early June 2020, Martin County started the process of purchasing and demolishing flood-prone homes to turn the properties into vacant lots graded below the road level, Gorton said. The potential for flooding is reduced, as the water stays on site instead of going onto the road.
It cost $5.1 million to purchase, demolish and grade 12 flood-prone Hobe Heights properties, in addition to doing lead paint and asbestos abatement, according to Gorton. With the project completed in April, about 75% of the bill was covered by federal dollars while 25% was covered by local dollars.
On the Friday morning after Ian passed through central Florida, Hobe Heights resident James Tozer said he was thankful for the project’s drainage improvements.
“Had the county not done whatever the county has done since the last time we flooded… apparently it’s working,” he said. “For now, apparently it’s working.”
Tozer, 55, stood outside his home on Southeast Mulberry Drive, noting that with fallen vegetation and a small tree snapping in his backyard, his situation could have been worse.
In 2020, knee-deep water flooded his home. Tozer noticed a difference in the amount of water in his yard this time around.
“We didn’t flood this year,” he said. “We got heavy spurts. We didn’t get long-term heavy rain.”
While the acquisitions and demolitions were “part of the solution” to flooding concerns, county officials now are focused on creating a formal outfall for Hobe Heights, Gorton said. The goal is to get the last permit this month before starting the bidding and construction process.
The water will be directed east to a future stormwater treatment area on Southeast Gomez Avenue where it will be cleaned before being discharged into the Intracoastal Waterway, Gorton said.
“It’s going to be a gravity system, so we don’t need to pump the water out of the neighborhood,” Gorton said.