Groves District Seeks $844,000 To Make Storm Repairs

The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District has applied for almost $844,000 in assistance to repair culverts and berms that failed during Tropical Storm Isaac.

District Administrator Clete Saunier reported on the damage and repairs needed at the LGWCD board meeting Monday. He said that district staff members have taken steps to address canal bank and culvert failures.

Site inspections have been conducted with representatives from the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and estimates of probable costs were submitted for approval Sept. 28.

About half the amount includes raising the perimeter berm 2 to 4 feet along the border with the Royal Palm Beach Pines Natural Area. Stormwater was spilling from the natural area into Loxahatchee Groves during and after the storm for several days, hampering the district’s ability to drain effectively.

“All applications are being processed and will be forwarded to Washington, D.C., in the next few weeks,” Saunier said. “Assuming all applications are approved, NRCS indicated it will be at least 60 days before funding is allocated.”

Saunier said six property owners who used a failed, nonconforming bridge culvert crossing near the intersection of D and Tripp Roads were sent notice letters on Sept. 14 notifying them of their responsibility to remove the non-conforming structure and replace it with a conforming, permitted bridge culvert crossing within 90 days.

“They were given 30 days to respond as to how they wish to proceed,” Saunier said.

The affected residents have been given temporary access over the D Road Canal at a bridge culvert north of the failed structure, then south along the D Road Canal maintenance access to their internal property access roadway, Saunier said.

He added that NRCS representatives reiterated that the failed culvert crossing may be approved as an “exigency” need, but the decision might not be known for another 60 days. As an exigency project, the work, upon authorization by the NRCS, must be completed in 10 days.

Supervisor Frank Schiola said he could not believe that the cost for the projects was almost $844,000. He was also critical of the estimated cost of the culvert crossing reinstallation at $77,000 when another culvert was installed a year and a half ago for only $55,000.

“There is a lot of work to be done out there,” Schiola said. “My concern is that maintenance may suffer because we’re putting more people on this, so we may have to look at contracting some of this stuff out.”

Supervisor Don Widing said he was not confident that the NRCS application would be approved in light of FEMA turning down Gov. Rick Scott’s request for assistance.

Widing was also concerned about completing the project in 10 days, assuming it is approved. Saunier said a contractor had completed the Unit of Development No. 1 culvert in less than 10 days. He added that the cost estimates were a bit high, but if the requests are approved, the district is not obligated to spend all the money.

“We will be getting bids,” Saunier said. “That’s part of the requirement, so having a maximum amount if a bid comes in less than that, which it should, there is a 25 percent cost share, which the district has to incur. That 25 percent cost share, I would presume, if this is approved for this bridge, would be the responsibility of the landowners benefiting from it, but we can provide in-kind services that offset that 25 percent.”

In-kind services could include district staff doing some of the work to offset costs, he said.

NRCS representatives stressed that the district’s application request enough money to do the work, Saunier said. “It’s harder to ask for more [afterward] than it is to get it approved,” he said.

Saunier reiterated that about half the cost was to raise the perimeter berm around the Royal Palm Beach Natural Area, which includes about 2.5 miles of canal bank. He said he did not know whether the berm would need as much work as estimated. “Again, we wanted to request enough money so that you don’t have to go back with amendments to that funding agreement,” he said.

Supervisor John Ryan asked whether the district was precluded from going to Palm Beach County or the Village of Royal Palm Beach to request their assistance on the project. Saunier said that he has been in contact with Palm Beach County Environmental Resource Management representatives about their plans to raise the perimeter berm.

“It is our drainage basin, and we are responsible for maintaining our perimeter berm to such a degree as to contain our flow from going out,” he said. “They, in turn, are responsible for making sure that their flow doesn’t come in, so there is somewhat of a 50-50 responsibility there.”

Saunier said the county has indicated it is interested in helping, based on meetings with Commissioner Jess Santamaria. He added that he did not think the berm repair was a critical need in light of the amount of rain that fell and the unlikelihood of that happening again soon.

“This is an event that was unprecedented, 20 inches of rain,” Saunier said. “The perimeter elevation of our water control basin is not designed, nor will it be designed, to withhold a 20-inch rain from occurring that doesn’t flood everything. All the basins interconnect when you get that much water. The perimeter berm is based on a 100-year storm, and it exceeded that.”