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Long-talked-about retention pond safety in spotlight for awareness meeting

Long-talked-about retention pond safety in spotlight for awareness meeting
Long-talked-about retention pond safety in spotlight for awareness meeting

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville city leaders are trying to prevent more children from drowning in retention ponds.

Three young children died in retention ponds in Jacksonville in a three-month span earlier this year.

“Even if one child has drowned, that’s way too many,” said Jacksonville City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman.

Pittman and her fellow council member LeAnna Cumber invited developers, regulators and educators to City Hall on Tuesday to discuss how to keep children from drowning in retention ponds.

“We want to make sure whatever legislation that we develop that it is good for the community,” Pittman said.

The city manages more than 200 retention ponds. After a girl died in a privately-owned pond in June, the city changed what it did for its retention ponds. City maintenance crews were told to allow vegetation to grow naturally around city-managed ponds.

Tuesday’s conversation focused more on privately-owned ponds. One issue is figuring out how many there are and where they are.

But city leaders aren’t just focusing on where the ponds are — they want to know where those at risk are. Two of the children who drowned in retention ponds in Jacksonville this year had autism.

Carrence Bass, who founded Making Strides for Autism Inc. after her child was diagnosed, suggested providing swimming lessons for children with autism.

Pittman also said she’s interested in mapping where children with autism live to use as a tool if they wander away.

“The mapping is definitely a good recommendation that we can start with, but there are many layers,” Pittman said.

The council members said they’re also going on a road trip to study how retention ponds are handled in other communities.

Pittman and Cumber have been working to develop a successful plan to prevent future tragedies, but it’s something they say will take time.

The call for action began in April when 5-year-old Mohamad Nour was found dead in a retention pond on the Northside. Just one month later, another boy, 4-year-old Gavin Douyon, drowned in a pond. Then, in late June, a 4-year-old girl was recovered from a retention pond in Argyle Forest after she drowned.