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City looks into retention ponds without fencing after boy’s death, state regulators reinspect

The death of a 4-year-old boy with autism has triggered responses from city leaders to state regulators in Florida.
The death of a 4-year-old boy with autism has triggered responses from city leaders to state regulators in Florida.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The death of a 4-year-old boy with autism has triggered responses from city leaders to state regulators in Florida.

In Jacksonville, where the city manages more than 200 retention ponds, officials are now taking inventory of the ponds to determine how many of them have barriers.

RELATED: Complaints show concerns over safety of Jacksonville retention ponds

Neighbors like JoAnn Brown have also complained to the city that even some of the retention ponds with barriers are still unsafe because they are broken.

“Tears come to my eyes when I think about what happened to that child, it really does. And I definitely don’t want to happen to my kids,” said Brown.

The St. Johns River Water Management District, which regulates retention ponds, said in the wake of the latest drowning, the agency “pulled senior compliance staff away from responsibilities on Tuesday to immediately re-inspect the pond.” The agency said Thursday the pond did meet the state’s criteria.

Since 2015, at least five children have drowned in retention ponds in Northeast Florida. The youngest was a two-year-old who drowned in a private pond in Baker County. In just over a month, two children with autism have drowned in Jacksonville ponds.

Local lawmakers, like Councilmembers Ju’Coby Pittman and Reggie Gaffney, have called for fencing to be required around retention ponds following the recent drowning deaths.

Currently, the St. John’s River Water Management District says only ponds with side slopes steeper than four feet horizontally by one foot vertically are required to be fenced off or restricted from public access. A spokesperson for the agency said “a statewide one-size-fits-all approach to fencing requirements” is not being considered at this time.

“Local governments can adopt ordinances that are more strict than the District’s 4:1 side slope criteria, including fencing,” said Teresa Monson, the public communications coordinator for the St. John’s River Water Management District.

“In Florida, while the responsibility for environmental resource permitting for most stormwater systems rests with the water management districts, the responsibility for maintaining the systems falls to the permitholder,” Monson said. “After developer’s complete construction of permitted systems in residential areas, the permit and the legal responsibility for maintaining these systems are typically passed on to a homeowners or condominium owners association, or property management companies. It is then that the upkeep and maintenance of the system become the responsibility of the association.”

The neighborhood retention pond where 4-year-old Gavin Douyon was found dead was being maintained by property management group Elim Services, Inc. The Board of Directors and company declined to issue a comment.


About the Author:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.