JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two Jacksonville City Council members are working to make retention ponds safer in hopes of saving lives.
The effort comes just days after 5-year-old Mohamad Nour drowned Sunday in a retention pond near Beach and Hodges boulevards. Police said Nour, who had autism and was nonverbal, got out of his family’s home. Search crews found the boy’s body in a pond on the Wolf Creek Townhomes property about two hours after his parents reported him missing.
In response, City Council members Ju’Coby Pittman and LeAnna Cumber called an emergency meeting Wednesday with Jacksonville’s public works director, John Pappas, to explore ways to make retention ponds safer.
“This is an emergency,” Pittman said. “This is an urgency that we get the information out to the community.”
Pittman and Cumber teamed up to work on an education campaign on retention ponds two years ago, but now they say they’re going directly to developers, property owners and public schools to talk about the dangers these ponds pose.
“It’s really important to get the schools involved, our first responders involved, so it resonates with kids, resonates with families,” Cumber said. “So yes it will take money, it will take time, it will take everyone getting together and making this a really important issue.”
The officials want signs to warn people of the dangers: retention ponds have steep slopes to catch water and the bottom is muddy, which can be hard to get out of once someone is stuck.
“Just because the ponds might look beautiful, it is a dangerous place,” Pittman said.
But education can only do so much. Police believe Nour’s parents did a lot to keep him safe in their home, but he slipped out early Sunday morning.
Pittman and Cumber used part of the meeting to raise the issue of fencing and natural barriers, like thorn bushes, which could help keep people out.
“Are there ways to address the actual infrastructure of the ponds themselves to make them safer?” Cumber wondered, noting that she’s looking at how other cities deal with retention pond problems.
Cumber brought up two issues with fences: for one, they’re nuisances because people might want to climb them to find out what’s on the other side. For two, she said, they can get in the way of first responders in the event of an emergency.
She also pointed out that any effort to make retention ponds safer would require funding, which would have to come from the city’s budget or through a budget allocation by city officials.
The pond Nour drowned in is situated on private property owned and managed by the Wolf Creek Townhomes Association. There is no fence or any kind of barrier keeping people out.
Cumber, Pittman and Pappas plan to meet with Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene, builders and other community leaders soon.