The upcoming year will be a crucial one for the Town of Loxahatchee Groves, with work slated to get underway on the new Palm Beach State College campus on Southern Blvd. and capital improvements that will include paving and expansion of a trail network.
“One thing we have to do is get this college thing behind us,” Vice Mayor Jim Rockett said.
Rockett told the Town-Crier that a petition being circulated to reverse the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council’s approval of the campus appears to be losing momentum, with the committee circulating the petition failing to maintain its requisite 10 members.
“Seeing that conclude and being able to move forward with the campus is important,” Rockett said. “It’s really not fair for the college to be standing around waiting for something to happen. That should be resolved early in the year.”
Pulling together a capital plan for the town is the next thing Rockett would like to see achieved.
“We have the traffic light at Okeechobee, which I think dovetails with some of the concerns of people living along that road, and we have the work in conjunction with the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District relative to roadways,” he said, adding that surveying and improvements to Collecting Canal Road top his agenda as far as road projects.
Rockett said attorneys are working on the transfer of road segments paved with open graded emulsified mix (OGEM) from the district to the town. “That is going to take more than a year as far as transferring the roads, but we’re kind of getting our feet on the ground as far as all the legalese,” he said.
Another item for the coming year is a review of the town’s land use code, which gave the council a surprise last year when planning staff recommended approval of commercial development for the Day property on Okeechobee Blvd. based on interpretation of the code. The incident drew a lawsuit when the council rejected the idea.
“The council believes there are some things that need to be revised,” Rockett said. “That’s something that’s probably going to be ongoing for the year.”
Establishing a trail network is another goal that will emerge from a survey of district and town roads.
“There’s a lot that’s tied together, and you just take one step at a time,” Rockett said.
Councilman Ron Jarriel said his goals also include pinning down capital improvement projects and moving forward with the college campus.
“Last year we set aside $1 million for capital improvements,” Jarriel said. “My vision this year is that we’ll take that money and pave more roads.”
He also wants to invest in equestrian trails, opening existing trails and possibly purchasing property that could be used to create a multipurpose trail network.
“I’m glad to see Palm Beach State College is moving forward,” Jarriel said. “I would like to see them break ground as soon as possible.”
Jarriel would also like to continue to expand the positive working relationship between the town and the LGWCD.
“I believe we’ve got a good relationship,” he said, adding that both entities should work together to resolve drainage issues that came up during Tropical Storm Isaac.
With a new administrator about to be hired at the district, Jarriel hopes communications will continue to improve. “I think the better we work together, the more benefits the residents will receive,” he said.
LGWCD Supervisor John Ryan said the district’s top propriety is to get a new administrator in place.
“We need a new district administrator who is capable of doing the necessary work and who understands the need to work effectively, openly and constructively with not only the supervisors and district employees, but all of the landowners, residents and town officials,” Ryan said.
The new administrator could be in place by the end of the next LGWCD board meeting Jan. 14.
Another key goal for Ryan is to convert the district’s perpetual easement deed for its roads and canals to fee simple ownership.
“This will make for a more direct transfer of the OGEM road segment to the town. We do want to transfer those road segments to the town with the speed humps as we have them,” he said, explaining that the hump design was based on extensive safety studies and that the district does not want continued responsibility for the roads if they are modified as some residents have requested. “We understand the residents’ concerns. I drive a truck over these speed humps every day. I wish that they weren’t there, but I understand why they are there.”
Ryan explained that the roads are rural, non-standard roads with widths in some places that aren’t safe for cars passing each other at anything but very low speeds. “The problem is that in today’s litigious world, we don’t want to spend the district’s money on lawsuits,” he said. “If we get called into court on a lawsuit, we want to be able to say we used the best engineering recommendations for a safe, controlled speed.”
Ryan also wants to continue to work with the town effectively and fairly, especially on future paving projects, such as on Collecting Canal and South B roads.
The district is also working on grants to help pay for drainage improvements, the need for which became obvious after Tropical Storm Isaac. “The banks need to be reshaped, and we can get some money to fix damage that was done to roads, and possibly some money to repair damage that was done to some of the culverts,” Ryan said.
There’s also a berm around the Royal Palm Beach Pines Natural Area that needs to be raised because water flowed into Loxahatchee Groves during the storm, hampering drainage efforts, Ryan said.
“We’d like to get some grant money, working with the county, because that’s a county preserve, to improve the safety,” he said. “The berms that are there were not adequate to prevent additional flood exposure.”
Supervisor Don Widing shares Ryan’s enthusiasm for finding a new administrator. “What I’m looking for is getting a new administrator on board, and hopefully the board members will readjust their strategic thinking,” Widing said. “The role of the water control district, in my view, has changed with our interlocal agreements with the town and with the introduction of OGEM… I want to see the mission and operational part of the district adjusted to reflect those changes.”
Widing also wants to simplify the issue of district and non-district roads.
“We need to get past that, and I want to focus on taking care of the community and quit worrying so much about whose authority and whose jurisdiction,” he said. “I think we’re getting closer to that. I think the cooperation between the district and the town is good, but there’s always room to strengthen it.”