Our Adventure in Pioneer Plantation, Hendry County, Florida


An Adventurous tale in Hendry County by Ray Auxillou.

The wife and I bought a 2.5 acres finca in Pioneer Plantation, Hendry County three years ago. We are just starting to put in a vacation home and or; as a retirement place. Not decided yet!

These are our experiences as we go along!

We live in Miami Gardens, in Metropolitan Dade County with 4.5 million people and traffic you wouldn't believe! We can't even get a doctor, or hospital, or clinic to accept Medicare, or Medicaid when you need it, in a morning walk-in visit. The County Hospital in Dade County might have key surgeons, but they put you on waiting lists six months and longer. So are useless, for all intensive purposes as a medical treatment area. Private clinics are overwhelmed, that you find in shopping malls and they don't want to mess with anything but the Insurance Business Medical plan they are signed up with. It is an impossible situation for older people.

So we looked for a County in South Florida that had a small population, was still in the Sub - Tropical climate, where it was warm all year round mostly. A place we could have a Guava tree, mango trees and grow Papaya. We figured a rural County Hospital in a sparsely populated area would be more apt to give prompt reliable medical treatment in our old age, than what we have in Metropolitan Dade County.

The weather line, that divides between the Temperate Zone of the Northern USA and the Sub Tropical Zone, for growing things, runs through the middle of Lake Okeechobie. We are here about 40 miles south of where the vegetation changes up north of here in Glades County. We finally settled on Hendry County in the middle of no where. Haven't had cause to try these county regional hospitals yet, but the County only has two small towns. ( La Belle the County seat and Clewiston the sugar factory town ) Mostly based on sugar money. Hendry County suits us fine, as it is one of the Four Corners of the World. It isn't on the way to anywhere, or from anywhere. Fort Meyers on the Gulf Coast is 70 miles to the West and Palm Beach is 70 miles to the East on the Atlantic Coast. One of the nice things about sub-tropical Florida is that for us old timers, the stories of starvation and hunger of city people during the Great Depression were never known here. Nobody in these remote sub-tropical South Florida rural counties, even knew there was a depression and if they heard about it on the radio, they had no way to relate to the news. Lots of fishing, hunting and you can grow your own vegetables all year round. Nobody starved during the depression down here. If you use hydroponics and a sprinkling can, you can plant and grow a week's vegetables in your yard every single week. I know, I've done it!

We didn't have any special criteria as South Florida is flat. The biggest thing is Mount Trashmore, the garbage mound in Southern Dade County, a couple hundred feet high. Around Hendry County, fire ant mounds are the next best high elevations. I mean this is flat country mon! Mosquitoes, gnats, crocodiles and alligators, non of that meant anything to us. It was location we wanted. Warm, rural and quiet and some reasonable ability to walk into a medical center and get service right away, or with an hour or so of waiting. We are roughly 27 miles from two medical centers, in either of the two towns.

Rough patch map of Pioneer Plantation location
Shows the highways and location of Pioneer Plantation

So where are we now? Well the wife and I are Senior citizens, but I've been many things in my life and built a few lodges, hotels, homes, hostels, a dozen big boats in wood, cement, or fiberglass, even an airplane. All to my own design or architecture. Most of this done in the heavy hurricane areas of the Western Caribbean. Right now, the wife and I drive the 2 hour drive of 120 miles up from Miami Gardens and have been putting a fence around our 2.5 acre plot. We do it more for enjoyment, recreation and pleasure and 2 hours work on a trip, is plenty for us old folks. We have finished the posts and wire. Got some re-stapling to do, and a top wire and then the farm gates, and in the FALL we will start with the house. May 16th., 2005.

I've got a very small guest house/hostel I'm building down in the foothills of the Belize Alps of the Western Caribbean, so I'm going to skip this hot summer and go down there to design the second phase of that on-going construction project and we will try to finish the fence here, by June and then re-start with a house plan in September. Strictly builder/owner style.

We had to get a building permit from Building and Zoning in La Belle. The office is not on the internet, but is middle of town and next to the Sheriff's office in a low building. The gal that served me, charged me $85 for the fence permit and it turns out to be 14% of the cost of building the fence. She was a VERY nice young thing. A Florida Cracker, her Dad she said, had built lots of houses around La Belle, without permits in his lifetime, but things were changing and she said it all, with the nicest smile and winning ways, I was charmed. We got our permit in about two hours of her instructing a trainee in the computer software. She apologized and said it used to be a week to issue a permit before. Satisfied we went away. We have heard lots of complaints though from neighbors about the Building & Zoning, and code people in La Belle out Pioneer Plantation way. But so far - touch wood -, our experience has been one of excellent co-operation and service. Never worked with permits before. We don't have that system in the Western Caribbean. You build for earthquakes and hurricanes and the strong construction I'm used to, would make this ticky tacky stuff they do here, look like a paper bag in a shower. I think we'll build strong, my way! Takes longer, but heck we are having fun, right? ( smile! )

This is the hostel we finished Dec. 2004 in Belize
We built this in Belize waiting for our 18th street in Pioneer Plantion to get opened.

This is the FESTIVAL WE OPENED OUR NEW VACATION HOUSE WITH, ON DEC. 26th. 2004 in the foothills of Belize, Central America. Just CLICK RIGHT HERE on this message to see these photos. We only had so much money available to build and we were waiting for the Engineers office in La Belle, to fill the ditch with a culvert and sand, up in Pioneer Plantation in Hendry County, Florida. They took several months to get around to it. We'd drive up every weekend to check the street entrance, from our home in Miami Gardens. So, we decided it would be better to go ahead and spend our money elsewhere for the time being as we were not getting any younger. I'm 68 years old! They did fill in the ditch, but I don't know what happened to the culvert pipe that was laying out on the side of the road by 18th street entrance over a few months. It disappeared and we saw the sand shoveled in to give us entrance to work on our fence. Down in Belize we don't have a building or zoning department and code enforcement,except for electrical wiring. It was much faster to work with that, than wait around up here. It took us 2.5 years part time, to build this vacation house down there. No codes or permits necessary. Solid concrete construction, big rebars in everything. CLICK ON THIS TO SEE PHOTOS.


We find it hard to get information of the La Belle County government. They are not really internet savvy yet and into posting information on the web. So from down in Miami Gardens, a 120 miles away it has been a chore to find things out in Hendry County, the place being so sparsely populated. When we phone though, the service has been extremely efficient and I'm pleased as a taxpayer.

As of May, 2005 , the Building Inspector and Code Enforcement Officer was Allen Richardson and he has a local reputation in Pioneer Plantation as being a nice guy and straight arrow. His phone number is 863 675 5245. I've not had any occasion to meet him and only know what my neighbors say. I'm told there is another guy that does code stuff, but my neighbors claim he has a bad reputation. Their Permit office is by the Courthouse on the main drag and half a little block over, by the Sheriff's compound. The only one we deal with is a sweet gal Florida cracker and she is so kind and apologetic and helpful, that if I had the money and a business, I'd hire her away from them people right away. Excellent service from that lady. They need to double her salary as a public relations person over the desk, she is superb.

We were over to the Engineers office three years ago. They were very cooperative and filled in a ditch so we could get into our property. Just that they were slow in doing it, so we eventually decided to put our money and time in building a small guest house/hostel in the country of Belize, foothills. Pretty much finished that first phase now and are back in Hendry County and have notified the Engineers office by mail, that I would need street access on 18th street, Pioneer Plantation, for building materials from Tampa Avenue, in the Fall of this year, 2005.

Right now the street is overgrown in places with young pines and saw palmeto clumps. We are cutting across private property of absentee owners to get where we are now building our perimeter fence. I don't expect any problems and I'm trying to time it to their new fiscal budget year. The County takes several millions of dollars a year out of Pioneer Plantation in property taxes and we have a good fire station, a central mail box facility, that they tell me I cannot get a mail box though, for some obscure rules? But we put a mailbox up outside our perimeter fence anyway in the hopes that one day we will get mail service when we need it. Where homes have been built and people living on them, they do have very good garbage pickup I notice and I'm told it costs $400 or so a year? We are a couple of years away from needing that service, but if you wanted it, they got it.

We had to have a survey done before fencing, as we only knew where one corner was. There are several surveyors they give you from Hendry County government on a photo copy printout for people offering services. We could only find one surveyor outfit and that was H. L. Bennett in La Belle and their phone number is 863 675 8882. They are back a block from the main drag, Highway 80 that goes through the center of the small town of La Belle. 241 Yoemans Avene is the address. The survey price was $550 which we thought was very steep, compared to $200 in Dade County. But they are the only game in town and you are stuck with it. Their e-mail is hlb@hlbennett.org

As an aside! Nobody in Hendry County outside of realtors answers e-mails. It may be because they don't have internet service, but we find that problem in many countries throughout the world.

We did get good customer service from property records department and from the tax department. But you had to go in person and make the long drive. The tax office were helpful long distance over the phone, which I found very encouraging for public service.

June 5th, 2005 --- It was a rainy weekend, so we went up to the Finca in Pioneer Plantation on Saturday, from our home in Miami Gardens, carrying a few plants. We picked up a nice very big Hibiscus bush at the corner by the Shell Station off Highway 80 also. It was rainy and cloudy. Lots of rain. The side road from Highway 80 as far as Glenwood Estates had the canals and ditches flooded and most fields and lawns had a sheet of water over them. Things start to get drier as you leave Glenwood Estate and pass the Pioneer Store as you enter Pioneer Plantation area proper. At our place there was no water and we dug 2.5 feet holes to put in some cedar trees, the hibiscus bush and half dozen Ponderosa pine transplants. We did not hit the water table. No flooding at all, unlike the entrance road some 4 miles back toward Highway 80.

July 5th, 2005 Update

From three years ago, when I was trying to get the County Engineers to clear the 18 th street road for access, I had made the rounds of different County departments gathering data. Somewhat confusing to a fella like me, with no experience building to some sort of building and engineers type departments.

What I had in my file notes from three years earlier was that I had been told that the WATER WELL should be near the driveway to the house? That there should be a 75 foot seperation between the well itself for water and any septic tank. I was told some stuff about a septic tank, in that it had to be up on a built up mound for the drain field and the tank itself, above the ground, about 4 ft to 7 ft, but I don't really remember? I notice that looking around Pioneer Plantation, some SEPTICS are raised and some are not. But a neighbor currently building, claims he is getting grief from some Diane Williams on the strict code applications representing Environment and Septics Department. Haven't got to that point yet. Hadn't really thought about using a septic, as that is like last century technology, as were privies the century before that. This century, people are using compost toilets like in the Space Station, that only need cleaning out once a year. They are dry and do not require water. I guess I have to ask that question of Building and Zoning, if I can remember next time I phone? But space station compost toilet is the way I had planned to go. They've been using them in Sweden for forty years. We shall see! The house connection for water has to be ten feet away from the pump, for the well water. End of my notes there!

Just got through this morning talking to Mark Lynch. Nice fella over at Hendry Building and Zoning, he is a Building Inspector. Was very helpful. The minimum house size is 600 square feet,he told me. I planned to build for a start with a minimum square footage, as being old, I'm not sure I'll be alive to finish anything bigger. But the intent is to build modular and design the house to extend it, as the years pass. I kind of want something bigger, but it is more important to the wife and I, that we have a certificate of occupancy quickly, as we wish to cash out our house in Dade County in the metropolis, at the earliest possible time. We plan to live both in our home in Hillview, Belize and for shopping up here in Pioneer Plantation when needed. The house in Hillview is currently 1850 square feet and we are still building. Putting in two condos on the side of the lot down there. You can mix residential and business in the country of Belize, or most of Latin America, which is nicer than the zoning in the USA. More convenient! With the oil crisis going to get worse, I can't see a society built around the automobile working much longer. Twenty seven miles to drive to the store is not going to work in a few decades, I think?

Anyway, Mark told me this morning that Pioneer Plantation is ZONED rural residential and I can get a CODE book from the State of Florida ( ICC something or other and I lost my notes on what he said - darn! )
What is becoming clear; that the hope of being out in a remote rural semi-wilderness agricultural county where rugged individualism ruled; as in sparsely populated Hendry County was a utopian dream. The concept you could build to suit some ideas of your own are not to be. Am rapidly finding out, that construction is highly designed and regulated by absentee bureaucrats in Tallahassee and they are thinking in terms of cookie cutter developments, even when you try to get away from people in the boondocks of Hendry County. Thank Gawd for Belize, our escape from such civilization!

I had planned the house layout, based on the terrain. I have good soil for growing in the center of the 2.5 acre piece and bad barren sugar sand around the perimeter. Assuming that SETBACKS from the fence line were same as Dade County, I drew up the layout for an 8 foot setback and the wife and I had measured out where the house was to go in the northwest corner, on barren soil, leaving the center for exotic fruit trees and a vegetable garden and recreational spot, with bushes for wildlife encouragement. Mark told me that SETBACKS were larger in Pioneer Plantation than in residential in cities. Forty feet from the street front, fifteen feet on the sides and twenty five feet from the rear fence. That information threw a kink in our house site and plans. Seems we are to be some sort of cookie cutter residential plan, with the houses more or less in the middle of the plot and the space around the perimeter wasted? We will have to go back and re-measure and see what we can do? But I don't see saving that good growing soil in the center for plants. We are going to have to build on it. That probably means down the way, we will have to mulch and compost the perimeter area, which is sugar sand for growing in the far future. I will also have to move our clump bamboo and mangos and other plants we already built in our planned front yard. As with these measurements, we are going to have to build over the good soil where we planted. Shame on that, we had never seen any wildlife on our plot, even though there are trees and bushes. I think when soil thieves stole a couple of feet of sand out of the center couple of decades ago, the vegetation that has grown up is not suitable for wildlife. All we have seen here and in neighboring plots are the occasional snake. It had been our intent to change the vegetation to encourage wildlife as we want that.

Down in Miami Gardens in the city, we have three big mango trees in the backyard. I'm building my airplane underneath. In Mango season we have an OPOSSUM living in our attic, or crawl space. Been there for three years. Saw it one time walking the electrical wires over the street. First time I popped the attic hatch, I was shocked. But he or she keeps away the field mice. Better the Possum I think? Still early morning clumping around the ceiling over the bedroom can get annoying once in a while. But mostly the Opposum is well behaved and a good neighbor.



She tells me I can mitigate any wetland area, by swapping planting of wildlife type plants with one spot to another. Another word she used was variance. That sounds bad! Sounds like it costs money? ( smile! ) Bureaucrats have got lots of ways to milk the cow, when it comes to construction. But essentially you can get a variance on the setback, to allow the building to be put closer to the fence. Will think on it! After the wife and I go out and measure what we have got for setbacks right now and see how much space and what shape would be needed for a different house design.

The word I got from the girl in Building & Zoning in La Belle after she checked with somebody was that 600 square feet minimum house size had to be the living space. It did not include porch, or utility room and such. Back to the drawing board for a house plan for sure now.

HEALTH DEPARTMENT for septic tanks conversation:

I called Diane Williams at 863 674 4047 for information on septics.

The finished grade or end of the drains for the septic drain field must be 32" to 42" above the natural ground level.

Septics right now she said, were running $5000 to $8000. The drain field for a minimum is 308 square feet for a two bedroom house and 462 square feet for a three bedroom house.

Any room next to a toilet, with a door and a closet is counted as a bedroom. The septic tank has a minimum carrying size of 900 gallons. The house cannot have more than 1200 sq. ft. inside living area and 2 bedrooms for these sizes. Minimum house size is 600 square feet.

She said that she didn't know anything about dry compost toilets, but referred me to the State of Florida regulations. She suggested I could get a variance, but that if the compost toilet powder had to be cleared out once a year, they would be out to the house annoying me once a year to see that it was done, and certifying it was done. That sounded ominous and inconvenient to me? Dry Compost toilet systems cost $1500 to install. I have no idea of the cost of a mound yet, but it has to run $10,000 and another $8000 for a septic system.

WHAT KIND OF HOUSE TO BUILD? There is the question, which came first the chicken or the egg? ( smile! )

The kind of house depends on the cost. Since we want to start off with a minimum investment and expand from there, it has gotten really wierd. All the permiting business, codes and zoning stuff, seem to shove you continuously toward putting a mobile home as the cheapest quickest solution? Mobile homes are built with thin sticks of soft Georgia pine, stapled together and covered with aluminum siding. How they can justify that as wind resistant to a Force 3 hurricane I have no idea? Having been in many hurricanes, two in small sailboats in open ocean with hundred foot waves, I doubt any mobile home I've seen in Pioneer Plantation would survive a hit by a Force 3 hurricane according to the code they tell me about. I've lost a wood two story hotel, boats and houses, to hurricanes on beaches. Normally I would build for a Force 2 hurricane and after that, you simply insure and build to have it blow away and rebuild. I've done that a few times already, in the Western Caribbean low lying islands of the barrier reef. These mobile homes around here would take a Force 1 hurricane, but suffer damages in a Force 2. A lot depends if you are in the front of the eyewall. Destructive forces drop off dramatically about 8 miles from the hurricane eye wall. Most winds then are only Tropical Gale Force. It's a narrow destructive path, or 20 to 30 miles wide.
Be that as it may, the saying goes "you can't fight city hall". Originally we decided and made a plan to use telephone poles and build up 13 feet above ground Caribbean hurricane style, with poles 5 feet in the ground above the normal water table. Would have liked to build concrete, but labor costs up here are too high. I'm too old to be laying blocks and mixing cement and plastering and tieing re-bar. So wood is the choice of material - MAYBE? I checked yesterday and I can get a steel quonsut hut building 32' x 20' open ended for residential building for $7,200 delivered. The catch is after talking to Diane Williams, I have to build a mound and a slab to mount it on. They have one at the Pioneer Store. The mound cost is a guess estimate of $10,000 in dirt. They claim they are delivering 8 yards in their trucks, but my estimate by eyeball is it is actually 5.5 yards for the price of 8 yards. How much a mound would cost is debateable but it is not cheap. The drain field alone will require a five foot mound 15' by 20', or a shade bigger and then you need more mound for a septic tank. Septic tank size with cement blocks, slabs and plastering will need to be 4' x 4' x 9' for minimum code. Will have to check on readymade septic tank prices? A 900 gallon septic tank is
roughly 4' x 4' x 9' or 3' x 4' x 10'. It's 7.481 gallons per cubic foot.
That damned toilet is the problem! We could build on posts, if necessary go to cement foundations with iron straps and bolts and 6" x 6" posts and build above the ground 11' feet to 13', which is great for floods and wind forces and avoids most of the gnats, mosquitos and bugs. Treated lumber should handle the house while I pass my remaining years left? A prefab steel building is attractive though and comes out in my estimates less money, except for the cost of a four foot mound of dirt to put a cement slab and build it on. Mobile home is the cheapest way of all to go. But having owned those suckers once or twice, would rather not go that way at all. Want something more substantial. I haven't even factored in the cost of building permits. Have no idea what costs those things run around Hendry County?
We continue to mull over our building options and refining our building construction costs. If we built our round house on posts, well strapped and cross braced, we still face the nuisance and extreme cost of a mound for a septic and drain field. Which would cost more than the house and verandah itself. Have to check into the variance costs for a compost toilet?
Reminds me of when my wife and I lived on our sailboat in the bay by Florida International University North Campus. We were going to buy an empty Dade lot and build fresh. We could build a house for about $15,000 to $22,000 in materials. What killed the empty lot idea was the building permits. Estimates on building permits ran over $28,000 dollars and hooking up to sewers and such. Not to speak of normal 8 month delays in getting permits. We ended up buying a fixer upper house that had water and toilet and septic. Turned out a lot cheaper in the end.

August 1st, 2005 research on foundation

We played with building a mound, putting in telephone poles and building above the ground about 12 or 13 ft, and also using 6"x6" posts on top of cement foundations as a third choice.

Research shows we can get poles through salesman Craig, at tel: 863 471 3333 in Sebring, an hour north of Hendry County. From Country Feed. Glades Electric said they didn't sell to the public, but referred us to a pole place in Valdosta, Georgia, they in turn referred us to Country Feed. Poles it seems come in all kinds and sizes. What we wanted apparently the salesman Craig said; was a PILING and it should be treated for a marine environment with a 2.5 treatment system. Should last 40 years or more. Water table here comes up close to the surface about twice a year, so that is important. Last time the Water Management people opened the flood gates the water table was within 10 inches of the surface of the ground. But normally is 12 feet down. Looking at $190 for a 12" diameter, and 18 foot piling delivered to Pioneer Plantation and then would need a crane. They have poles in all kinds of sizes down to six inches. So we may play with the house design a bit yet.

Silvia my wife at Pioneer Plantation, Florida
Pine trees and sand. Starry nights and quiet.

PIONEER PLANTATION, Hendry County, Florida.

We lucked out on a 2.5 acre piece of lot, in an old real estate division in the middle of cane fields as far as the eye can see. Though a lot of farmers nowadays have switched to citrus. Over in Palm Beach County to the East, I see some cane farmers are switching to corn. This sub-division of Pioneer Plantation is a swath about 2 miles wide and 7 miles long, stuck in the middle of all that agriculture. The development is old. Judging from the pine trees, probably 35 years old? It's a high ridge of sand over a limestone cap. The water table is 6 feet in our southern spot in the development and floats up and down two feet with heavy rains. A good hurricane sitting on top dumping rain, might flood the ground, by raising the water table, but not much more than six inches if it ever happened? The land is sand, with saw palmetto clumps and Ponderosa Pine trees and is dry all the time. It should not flood at all, except maybe in the event of a terrible hurricane with torrential rain for hours and days on end. The sand is porous and rain sinks right through. The land is a high ridge and higher than anything else around, be it citrus land, or sugar cane land. Some County bureaucrats have said it is a flood zone. But I doubt that is true? Drainage would be to the surrounding sugar cane fields. I'm very familiar with this type of terrain, which is savanah in more lower coastal mangrove type areas. The STATE maps for environmental purposes show a lot of small wetland dots in Pioneer Plantation. But over three years, I've figured it out and by listening to the old timers that live here. Seems like a combination of political factors in County government and the GOOD OLD SUGAR BARON RED NECK BOYS controlled things and still do, but it is changing, caused problems? For over 70 years. Anyway my dates are uncertain, but a lot of top soil stealing went on back years ago. Trucks, dozers and loaders would come into this abandoned PIONEER PLANTATION real estate development and scoop up anywhere from two to three feet of vacant unsettled 2.5 acre plots, top soil out of the center of each private lot of center tracts with absentee owners in Northern states. They would raid and pirate soil in the center of these lots and carry it away and sell it. I even had one sand and gravel guy brag his daddy and uncle used to do it, though they are dead now. This would make low spots and change the vegetation profile in the center of about 500 to 700 plots, of 2.5 acres subdivision lots. From aerial photography the STATE in later years, identified these as wetlands. Which is a CROCK OF HORSE MANURE! Whats left is still very high! What I wonder from a legal viewpoint, would be whether a wetland declaration would have to be based on natural topography, or if it can be applied to a man made low spot in these lots on tracts in Pioneer Plantation that went through sand stealing phase years ago? On my lot you can still see the dozer marks where they dug the sand out. Grown over with weeds, but still there on the south side fence line.

But when we bought three years ago, there were still big horror stories by the very few people that actually lived in Pioneer Plantation subdivision. They spoke of 4 foot floods drowning their houses, mobile homes, cars and losing their crops. The stories were wide spread and it happened with no rain at all. It took a while to piece together the truth. But we bought; accepting the flood zone theory anyway. In three years, no matter how hard the rain storm, we would drive up from Miami and never saw a drop of water on our plot. Pioneer plantation subdivision; has roads, that are sand, some ashphalt paved, and electrical service everywhere. The mystery of the fast acting 4 foot high floods deepened? Then we found the truth!

It seemed that back in the olden days, a berm was built around the whole subdivision, but sugar cane practices of the time needed periodic flooding to wet the young cane roots. The sugar barons were big factors in State politics. Still are! There are billionaire families in La Belle, a small town and County seat, I'm told? Anyway, using political influence, the vested interests could control the WATER MANAGEMENT people and would flood the sugar cane fields and when it came time to drain them, they would speed up the process by pumping the water into and through pipes in the surrounding berm ( dike ) that protected Pioneer Plantation subdivision and flood it in about six hours to 4 feet in height. They used the sub division as a huge retrenchment pond while water drained from the cane fields. Drowning any pets, crops, mobile homes and cars, or tractors of any owners. They tell me by the gossip of old timers, that employment depended on the sugar barons and so if you complained you lost your job. If you happened to be an independent, working outside the county, then you would be intimidated and threatened with loss of property as reclamation for wetlands that could be done through influence peddling, at a stroke of a pen. The myth and lies involved with the flooding of Pioneer Plantation are now history! The facts belie the truth of course! This sand ridge that is Pioneer Plantation is midway between the two towns of La Belle and Clewiston and is 24 feet roughly above sea level. Considerably higher even, than either the County Seat of La Belle, or the sugar town of Clewiston.

That is probably why no development occured over 35 years or so in the sub-division? Nobody could live with the unexpected surprise flooding from the sugar cane fields, done by the politically influenced WATER MANAGEMENT PEOPLE for the Everglades.

Since then, we haven't seen any floods as described in three years and neighbors tell me they haven't had such a flood for 10 or 12 years, I wondered what happened? Seems like there has been a steady influx, which is growing, of immigrants and settlers into Hendry County, who work out in other places in the coastal cities, or down in Miami. Not relying on employment in the sugar industry, they were making lots of noises, which were being ignored mostly by our State politicians in Talahassee, because of campaign donations by sugar and citrus money. Thats what I'm told by those old timers living here anyway? But about ten years ago, some guy had planted on 100 acres, a crop of some kind on borrowed money and they flooded him out, he was forced into bankruptcy and he went beserk. Eventually, the big shot WATER MANAGEMENT GUY, I'm told, over on the Atlantic Coast in Palm Beach County flew over the flooded real estate development in a helicopter and was allegedly shocked? That said; the WATER MANAGEMENT people then went on to devise new drainage policies, built some drainage canals and water from fields on the East of Pioneer Plantation now drains East and water on the West of Pioneer Plantation is pumped West. Pioneer Plantation subdivision is now high and dry! A beautiful spot for vacation, or retirement in a warm sub-tropical climate.

People are moving in and real estate values went from $6000 if they could sell it, by old out of state owners, to around $62,000 today in Spring of 2005, just three years later. Building permits are climbing. You can see the new building accelerating and newcomers coming in. Won't take long before this real estate development in the middle of rural splendor will be posh ranchettes, or mini-horse farms. Lots of people have horses and other animals and there hasn't been a flood for a decade. Even through four rainy hurricanes in the Fall of 2004. I know, we were there and checked! Pioneer Plantation is neither a flood zone, or a wetland area, it is the highest land in the County outside of the man made dike that surrounds Lake Okeechobie. And no, my lot is not for sale! ( grin )

Camping overnight at the Finca in Hendry County
The fencing is well along and we are using the rainy month of June to put in tree plants.

On Memorial Day weekend of the 29th and 30th of May, 2005, we went over to Fort Meyers to see the Tropical Nursery and third world agriculture projects in North Fort Meyers for ECHO. We picked up some clump bamboo and a mango tree and stopped by our FINCA in Pioneer Plantation, Hendry County, on the way home in Miami Gardens, to plant them. Watered our bougainvillia cuttings, an oak tree transplant doing well and some pine tree transplants. Didn't do any fence work. I was tired and it is hot. Chatted for a while with Ken a neighbor building down the road. Said hello to the dogs of Joe our next door neighbor and had a lovely couple of draft beers and french fries in the little cafeteria - pool hall ( known as Porky's Bar-B-Q ), around the corner about a mile away. Those beers went down fabulous on such a hot weekend. Porky's Bar-B-Q is getting to be a fabulous locals hangout on Saturdays. They only open in the evenings some other days. Run by a Cuban/American couple. Their rice and beans don't taste good to me, done Cuban style with pork and grease. I like my rice and beans cooked with coconut juice. But their American countrystyle hamburgers are huge and a meal in of itself. They are most famous for their dish of French Fries. Huge basket in size, excellent and hand cut apparently? But people are coming from the nearby two towns of La Belle and Clewiston just for these country meals. They have a recipe that is unique and must be the best in ALL of Hendry and Glade County judging by the visitors comments.

Ray planting tree at finca.
Mango tree gets planted in rainy June, 2005.


Story of woe on the tool shed business! All our neighbors have been telling us we need to get a steel 20 ft., freight container to keep our tools in. We see everybody has them, as you drive the seven miles down into Pioneer Plantation proper off Highway 80. We were carrying fencing material and tools each weekend up to Hendry County from Miami Gardens and the Home Depot in the trunk of our old car. Then we started leaving our tools out in the grass and bushes on the ground in the sun, wind and rain. We just didn't have room in the car trunk for rolls of wire and wooden fence posts. After looking at the rusting steel bulky containers, the wife and I decided on browsing the catalogues and picked out a more aesthetic pleasing tool shed from Sears Roebuck. But not having any experience with building permits, we asked our neighbor and he said we would need a permit. You don't need a permit in Dade County as it is a portable item, a toolshed. So, I dutifully phoned long distance and the girl checked with somebody in the Building Permit department and told me we couldn't have a tool shed for our building tools until, AFTER we built a house. Sort of like putting the cart before the horse idea! She said they didn't make the rules, only enforced them. Haven't had a chance to find out who makes the rules yet? Since we build on a salary cash available basis, not in that much hurry. Credit is against our belief system! Went back to our neighbors in Pioneer Plantation and they explained that is why everybody has these steel ugly looking 20 ft containers. They are some kind of movable object and don't need a permit. Bureaucratic unintended consequences is certainly not unique to Hendry County, we get that in many countries of the world, and throughout the counties of the 50 states in our country. For the moment we have just decided to leave tools out on the ground to rust and hope nobody steals them. We have put off investing in a riding mower, as that would be too much temptation to leave around. We bought a six year old used pickup truck and that has helped with material carrying over the car trunk, ( will have to sell the wife's car in favor of the pickup truck now ), but it is still not practical to carry tools back and forth. A problem that we will probably go about solving around September, this still being the end of May, 2005 at this writing.

Kids around Pioneer Plantation! On a weekend when school is closed. The older teenagers are riding around the sandy lanes and streets on their horses, having short races and so on, playing cowboys. The younger kids are lined up in conveys on their four wheelers and tootling through the woods and trails of undeveloped properties. Sometimes the very young ones are out on a paved road and practicing to ride bicycles. We have an old man flying an ultra light, named Ross. But I haven't met him yet. Hope to soon. He takes off and lands by the canal dike inspection track. I've got a plane I'm building myself and will be finished one of these years.

Here is a photo of my airplane building project. CLICK HERE!

July 5th, 2005 update from Special District and Engineering Department on our street.

Pat Norman returned my call from the Special District on the street clearing I had requested. (e-mail: pnorman@hendryfoa.net ) We'd been transfered from Engineers office by the clerk to some outfit called Waste Management, which had a message machine. Turns out to be probably a phone for several different departments? She said; we would have to do street clearing ourself and pay for it. We were welcome to do whatever we wanted to clear 18th street in Pioneer Plantation off Tampa Avenue. The reason being the department budget from our couple million dollars a year taxes in Pioneer Plantation was exhausted for several years in the future. That street maintainance of existing roads and streets was more than they could handle. We will factor that into our decision making and it is nice to know , one way or another. I was given contractor names of South West Land Clearing ( 863 675 4988 ) and Eagle. I'm sure I can find out more recommendations from neighbors who know the ropes? A lot of contractors have shoddy reputations I hear?

An interesting point Pat brought up, was that the STATE, Department of Environment and Protection has wetland spots marked in Pioneer Plantation. Our lot is in the center of a tract of lots and I believe our neighbors lot ( don't know who or where that person is? ) And ours also, were the victim of sand quarrying couple of decades ago? The dozer blade marks are still there. I estimate some thief took off about 18 inches of sand in the center and south of our lot and sold it. This is were soil thieves couple of decades ago stole sand down to about 2 feet from the center of the block of lots all over Pioneer Plantation tracts. The tracts are all high sand pine ridge otherwise. Still, our water table is still a few feet in heavy rains below the surface, but in torrential rains with waterlogged soil, it might take time to settle and sieve through? We were out there this holiday weekend after three weeks of steady torrential rain, there is water in the canal along the road. The drainage canal is blocked though, as the Engineering department filled the ditch at 18 th street entrance, but never installed the pipe culvert they had lying out there for about three months. First time I've seen that rain in the road side drainage canal! But our camping, two person tent we left out there was still dry. We'd already talked with Environmental for the County. They have the STATE map for wetlands, but they have no approved protection for their MASTER PLAN which has not been approved by County Government either. But the STATE is a different Environmental Department they tell me, to do with the Water Management people of South District? Drives me nuts and makes my head spin with all these conflicting tales and overlapping bureaucracies. Pat Norman gave me a tale of some $10,000 fine for somebody or other and the name of the person at the STATE of Florida Environmental Department . Which is Bob Pierce ( 863 983 1431 ) for filling in wetlands. Give him a phone call tomorrow and see what is what? Can't find any listing for any State office on the internet. Was looking for GIS wetland maps also for Hendry County on the internet and our county is missing. Must mean no wetlands in Hendry County?

I was telling Pat that in our tract area, we have been watching these spots of vegetation that might be construed as wetlands by aerial photography, but are actually from sand quarrying illegally, for wildlife, and in three years, we have never seen a bird in these bushes. The wife and I had already started replanting with some wildlife friendly bushes and trees. We want birds, animals and butterflies and stuff. I was telling Pat that there is a tree on dry sugar sand, on a neighbors property all by itself, 600 feet away and it is loaded with birds and nests. But not a single bird in the so-called wet lands ex-sand quarrying. I think it must be the type of vegetation that grew up in these low spots where they stole the sand out of? There is nothing for birds and wildlife to eat. With plant roots closer to the water table in heavy rainy years, marshy plants and bushes would put down roots and grow. We've seen the whole place completely devoide of greenery some years, but this year due to a rainy June month, the stuff is growing like crazy again. Same with my yard in Miami Dade County. I've had to cut the grass around my house every six days, it is sprouting so fast this year with this rainy June. Growing an inch and a half a day! Unbelievable!


Well our house plan we'd had drawn is no longer valid. We've been squeezed out of the North West Corner by the setbacks. Going to go out next weekend and measure off these fifteen feet north side setback, the rear twenty five foot setback and the forty foot front setback and put some posts to mark them for construction. Then we will mark off where the sand quarrying by thieves in decades past created a low spot. We had it marked off in a dry season three years ago, but lost our markers. It being rainy right now, we will mark the border of the low spot and then measure what we have to build on? Then draw new style house plans to fit the space. Think we will continue to convert such bushes that are in this old illegal sand quarry space to a more wildlife friendly type spot. See if we can attract some wildlife, to what will eventually be off our front porch facing south. Not our intention to get in a lose-lose court situation with a bunch of bureaucrats that don't have to pay for their lawyers.

What we want is a house and car parked in the USA, for when we return to the country for shopping, recreation, or medical reasons. Kids can float through and use it also, I suppose? My grandkids already come up from the Redlands in South Dade to camp and ride horses of neighbors on the occasional long school weekend. They bring a tent though and play the frontier boy scouts scene, which I think is good for them. Got a grandson coming this week for summer holidays from his high school in Nairobi, Kenya. See what he thinks of boondocks Florida, compared to the lions and giraffes of the Safari Parks outside Nairobi? Some of my other grandkids are coming up from Caye Caulker, Belize too. Mostly to go to Disneyland though and do some shopping. Bring em all out. Mosquitos and everything! ( smile! )

Well 14 year old Tyler arrived last night from Kenya, Africa and is sleeping off the two day jet lag at Sharon my daughters nursery in the Redlands south of here. This time he didn't get lost at Heathrow Airport in London intransit, like last time. My daughter Diane is arriving with two of her sons, Justin 16 yrs and Dillon about 12 years late tonight. Along with Sharon's kids Stephan and Marlise, the bunch of the grandkids and two of my daughters plan to race up to North Carolina camping in the mountains for five days before Hurricane Denis hits the area. When they get back to South Dade County, all the grandkids will fly to Belize and the barrier reef island of Caye Caulker in Belize, for the rest of the staggered school holidays. Sailing, fishing, scuba diving and such being their holiday sports. Chantel their first cousin was supposed to come up, but didn't have a current visa and they make you wait now because of the Patriot Act for a month before issuing one. So she missed out on this trip up to Florida. I believe Diane my daughter is planning to go on alone to Minnesota to visit with her husbands parents. Michael died a month ago in a freak accident, kite surfing at the island. She needs a change of place to recover. I was trying to get this set of grandkids to join me up in Hendry County for a day and help me measure off a house site and transplant some casaurina pine seedlings. Not to be, everybody has conflicting schedules and school holidays based in three different countries.

ClICK HERE for photos of Viking Funeral of my son-in-law, last month at the Barrier Reef of Belize.


Well I finally got around on July 14th, 2005 at finding the Florida Building Code online. I had anticipated ordering a book for building houses codes around $35. Instead there are multiple books and choices, starting at $218 and up over $1200. I haven't a clue what I want and it is far too expensive for a one time job. So I guess driving up to La Belle County and looking and asking questions will be more appropriate, at the building and zoning department, even if it is out of the way and a 3 hour drive.

Another thing, in activating the Western Caribbean Hurricane Net for my Belize Development TRUST NGO for Hurricane Emily this 2005 season, I found out that my mental picture of 120 mph and up for Force 3 Hurricanes is wrong also. Seems Force 3 is much lower at 115 mph or so? Getting old I guess? I usually don't raise much hurricane warnings on anything under 120 mph and had it in my mind set, that Force 3 was above that. Wrong again, which makes my assumptions earlier on ticky tacky mobile homes and the Florida Building Code were wrong too. C'est la vie!


July 20th, 2005 VOILA! I accidently found out how to scroll the pages for the Florida Building Code on the internet. Been playing with that darned thing for two weeks. It was there, but I just couldn't read the bottom half of the page. No side bar to scroll down. The mouse wheel doesn't work and tried rotating the picture to read it, but the print was too small reading with it sideways. Yesterday I was trying again, to read the Florida Building Code on line and diddling with the little hand, trying to pull the screen down and in anger jiggled the darned thing around. Amazing! When you slide the little hand up, the page moves up and you get to read it all. Two weeks trying to figure out how to read this thing, part time. Sheessh!
Didn't do me much good. All the cement foundations were for solid walls. I was thinking of a pyramid type cement post foundation, with a steel insert strap to bolt the post too for lateral strength, for 12 ft, vertical 6"x6" posts. Then nothing on telephone poles either as an alternative. Then I tried to find out the code on floor joists and sills. Sort of a catch all phrase, but says they only have to be architecturally sound. Hmmmmphhh! What the heck does that mean? The Building Inspector gets a bribe, like in Dade County, or he rejects your work? Probably not, they seem straight arrow in Hendry County bureaucracy so far. Will have to drive up to La Belle one day and ask these guys what they want? They've been very helpful so far, and only two of them! Maybe they'll help me out again and tell me what they want? I hate to annoy them with stupid questions though. As an ex-sea Captain, I tend to want to do everything myself and rely on nobody else. At sea, the consequences are yours alone, no matter what somebody else told you, or did. The Captain is responsible. Hard habits to shake. I find all this stuff very puzzling and to be truthful, darned annoying. I like to build like a ship, solid for bad weather. As a marine architect that is my tendency. Aaah well! When in Rome?

August 8, 2005

We went up to the farm in Pioneer Plantation today. Was very surprised to see the roadside canals full of water. Brim full of water and our 18 th. street was flooded; as was our lot and neighboring lots to a height of 3 inchs. We were able to drive in and found our tools and tents scattered on the ground, by some terrific thunderstorm at some time. We picked everything up, walking around in ankle deep water and put everything in the pickup truck to bring back to Miami Gardens. The high water certainly made us re-think construction and building costs?
On the way back, we noticed the East side canals on Hghwy 80 going to highway 27 junction, were two feet below the high water mark. Which led me to believe that if Pioneer Plantation is divided as I've been told, with water being pumped East on one half and west on the other half. Then whoever is pumping water through canals on the Western half of Pioneer Plantation in the Florida Managment District has inaccurate indicators, to let the flooding get so out of hand? This is the first time in the past four years we have actually seen this happen. Somebody didn't do their job at the Water Management District this time, is my opinion? We lost all our plants, about $1200 worth as rotted out at the roots. Seems to me they should have opened the flood gates that I've heard talked about so much?
We always look at South Bay when passing back and forth. There is the most beautiful black soil in one field, along the highway. It was dry as usual, right next to the Lake.
The canals running into Clewiston from Highway 80 were all low in water. Couldn't even see the water from the car windows as we drove by. We've got to believe this is a Water Management Flood Control problem? Somebody didn't do their job right?

February 21 st, 2006 Back from Belize.
Called my neighbor Kenny today in Pioneer Plantation, but didn't get him. He'd said last Fall, last time I talked to him, he was selling out and moving away? His answering machine was on though?
We plan to sell our house in Miami, thus making us homeless people in the USA. We want to retire to Belize and the house we have there now. The thinking is how to get mail and keep a car up here in Florida for emergencies, or shopping trips? We need a mailing address! I understand from my neighbors that the Post Office will not rent me a mail box in Pioneer Plantation? Not sure why? Maybe because there is no house on the land? We thought of leaving a car there for whenever we had to come to the Florida? For a week of shopping we could rent a motel room. As I understand it, we have to keep a car licensed and insured, which means we also have to be able to collect mail regarding the car and regarding the property taxes. Difficult thing to be homeless in Florida, even if you have property. The mail business is disconcerting. Wonder who makes up all these rules? Once we sell this house in Miami Gardens, then what? We want the money in CD's and live off the interest and social security. We can live at our house in Belize for $350 a month, whereas the same standard of living in Florida is about $1,700 a month. Counting taxes and garbage and all those add-ons. We hope to combine interest and social security and have about a $1000 a month? That leaves no discretionary cash, but we would be retired.
The loss of my plants last Fall in Pioneer Plantation to derelict operation of the Flood Control District flood control system, left a bad taste in my mouth. We are debating selling the property, or building on it? But doing nothing seems to be the result so far.

CLICK HERE for statistics on Hendry County and the two towns. Population about 32,000.

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