Mayor Lenny Curry’s office and the Jacksonville City Council are exploring solutions to a recent spate of deaths involving children and retention ponds.
Retention ponds are man-made pools of water used to prevent flooding from stormwater runoff and trap sediment loads that can harm the environment if they move downstream. They are often deceptively deep.
Following the death of a 4-year-old in a private retention pond, reported by WJCT News partner News4Jax on Monday, Curry tweeted his administration was taking steps to prevent future tragedies at the 235 public retention ponds managed by the city and was asking private property owners to do the same.
A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office told WJCT News Tuesday that the focus was on creating natural barriers to entry at retention ponds rather than fencing, because fencing can prevent individuals and emergency services from getting to the water in critical situations.
“The goal is to make getting to the water’s edge less attractive and more difficult,” she said.
The form natural barriers take will depend on the structure of the pond and the surrounding area, it might include planting trees, thick bushes or forming hills that prevent easy or accidental access to the pond.
While Curry’s administration is pursuing the natural barrier strategy, they also expressed being open to working with the City Council on other options, potentially including fencing.
Sallie Wnuk is the board president of the homeowner’s association for the Secret Woods neighborhood on Jacksonville’s Southside.
The neighborhood has three private retention ponds. According to Wnuk, the association only manages the banks of one of the ponds, while homeowners are expected to manage the banks of the other two ponds that are on their individual properties.
Wnuk said her association doesn’t have a position on a potential ordinance on private retention ponds, but said she would personally be against any mandate from the city telling property owners to put up fencing or allow natural barriers to grow and impede access to the pond.
“I’m just thinking aesthetically, I can’t imagine what that would look like, and I think it would be a negative, aesthetically,” she said.
A child has died each month in both public and private retention ponds since April and more have died over the past year.
City officials believe they are able to pass local ordinances to mandate natural or other kinds of barriers around retention ponds on private property, but are evaluating statutes to confirm and are considering a variety of options before they move forward with any decision.
If it turns out the city doesn’t have the authority to mandate natural barriers on private property, it would require action from the Florida Legislature, which doesn’t come back into session until January.
For more information on retention ponds, including safety and where they are located in Jacksonville, the city has created a webpage for it at coj.net/pondsafetyjax.