The Royal Palm Beach Village Council last week demanded that its aquatic weed contractor do a better job maintaining village canals.
At the council’s meeting Thursday, Aug. 15, Councilman Jeff Hmara said the canal conditions are not as bad as last summer, but that the contractor still has a long way to go.
“Last year’s deplorable canal conditions by comparison to conditions this year, are still not acceptable,” Hmara said.
Many village canals are congested with weeds and floating plant material that do not seem to go away despite efforts by the contractor.
Bob Carter of Pepper Tree Crescent, who had complained about the situation at a previous council meeting, said the vegetation in the M-1 Canal behind his home floats back and forth, getting stuck against the floodgate that opens to the C-51 Canal.
“If we have a hurricane, that lock might not work properly,” Carter said. “A year went by, and we have just as much stuff there today as we did then. The contractor didn’t do his job.”
Leslie Horowitz of Rivera Avenue, who said she was speaking for a half-dozen of her La Mancha neighbors, complained that the level of the canal behind their houses was way too high.
“If we get a hurricane, we’re going to be flooded,” Horowitz said, adding that growth on the edge of the canal is 6 feet high in places and that there have been issues with water rats on her property.
Mayor Matty Mattioli said the issue will be addressed by the Public Works Department, but pointed out that the primary purpose of the canals is drainage.
“Those canals were built not to water ski, not to boat, not to swim,” Mattioli said. “They were put there for flood control. If you recall, the last rainstorm that we had, the Village of Royal Palm Beach was the only city that I can recall in Palm Beach County that was dry.”
Public Works Director Paul Webster said that since the council’s last meeting, canal conditions have improved. “The channels are open and passable,” Webster said. “There are still issues that are being addressed along several areas of the system with grasses along the shoreline.”
He said the department is also trying to address algae growth, the green or brown foamy floating vegetation.
“Those are the issues, and they are all being addressed by the contractor,” Webster said, pointing out that the measures put in place were not working as quickly as some might have wished.
Mattioli asked whether anything is being done to remove the floating vegetation, and Webster said one of the changes in the contract last year was to require the company to remove the floating vegetation in canals that the village maintains, pointing out that the M-1 Canal is under Indian Trail Improvement District jurisdiction. When he asked ITID officials about skimming the floating vegetation in the M-1 Canal, they were not cooperative, although they use the same contractor as the village.
“Can we annex it?” Mattioli quipped.
“That’s not a question for me to answer,” Webster responded.
Village Manager Ray Liggins said vegetation in the canals has been an ongoing issue for years.
“The contractor that we have on board now, we have confidence that it has the know-how to get this under control and keep the vegetation growth to a minimum,” he said. “Still, with every contract, it’s good to have some verification processes in there. Last year, when we were dealing with this contractor, we did put some verification methods in there that required a little bit of additional reporting and inspecting.”
Liggins pointed out that in March and April, they started noticing heightened growth in some areas that was exceeding acceptable levels.
“The fortunate thing is that this year’s contract that was modified last October, we were able to go back and verify what the contractor did or did not do,” Liggins said. “We did have a section that was not treated as aggressively as it should have been earlier in the year, and resulted in more growth than we would like. In the ideal world, we would have caught that immediately.”
Liggins said he thought that the revised contract with improved reporting will go a long way toward improving the village’s aquatic weed control.
“The more immediate verification process in place, and the attention that we’ve gotten with the contractor is our best shot going forward for next summer,” he said. “Because of our confidence in the company’s ability, we’ve got to get the operation as good as the ability, and we think we’re a lot closer than we’ve been in dealing with this in the last decade, and we’d like to give that a try for this next year.”
Councilman David Swift said that he expected more people at the meeting to complain about canal conditions than the dozen or so who attended.
“I’m looking for significant improvement in the management of this contract, or I won’t be voting for it again,” he said. “I really wouldn’t have someone else take it over because you really do have expertise, but this reporting issue has got to get better.”
Swift said he would like to see more regular reporting to the council on the status of canals, and tours of the canals by the contractor on where they feel they are doing a good job, as well as areas they feel are in bad shape.
“We have a lot of residents who are not happy at all. I have a degree in aquatic biology. I understand the issues you guys are up against,” Swift said. “You’re up against a very high rainfall period, lots of nutrients coming in from our properties, plus The Acreage’s drainage — a lot of their nutrients come our way, too. It’s not an easy job, and I understand that, but it must get better.”
Swift said water quality in the canals is a big deal for the residents. “Many people live on the water, and they bought there for a certain reason, and they’re not happy campers,” he said.
Hmara declared that he had difficulty continuing with a contractor when it has shown bad performance for two consecutive years.
“We have a lot of brown, foamy stuff floating out there,” Hmara said. “Last year, when it was really bad, we saw some harvesting equipment out there to clean that up. I’m not sure whether that is an approach that ought to be taken. I understand that’s an extreme, manpower-intensive kind of thing, but it’s a pretty dire situation we have again for the second year in a row.”
Webster said the floating debris is dead plant material that comes up through the treatment process. “It’s called harvesting, but it is really skimming the floating debris,” he said. “They have been removing the floating debris. It’s just a matter of the treatment system in those areas that were getting bad this year.”
Webster said that he believes the situation will get better soon.
“We recognize that the system is not where it needs to be, but we believe that the contract, minus the failings that we had this year, is a workable solution,” he said.
ABOVE: The Royal Palm Beach Village Council.