Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Administrator Steve Yohe reported Monday, Feb. 9 that his staff has completed an 11.8-mile canal dredging and clearing project funded largely by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. The grant was in response to a request to help in the recovery from Tropical Storm Isaac.
LGWCD Supervisor John Ryan complimented Yohe on the completion of the project, explaining that it had saved the district a lot of money by purchasing a long-reach backhoe to do the project, rather than contracting it out.
“Even though we don’t have a Tropical Storm Isaac that often, it did allow a contract with USDA,” Ryan said. “I think this was a worthwhile project.”
Yohe said the canals had been put back to their proper design configuration.
He also reported that the district’s legal staff is in its second appeal to get $75,000 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted but has not sent. “Second attempts can take as long as a year,” Yohe said.
Ryan said that the district has done the work, which had been approved by FEMA.
“FEMA specifically approved the work, they funded the initial disbursement,” Ryan said, until they learned that the USDA had granted money to the district. “They felt it was double funding.”
Supervisor Don Widing, who works at a fire department in Broward County, said one appeal of his had gone on for three years.
Ryan said part of the confusion was that the district communicates with the USDA office in Tallahassee. “We have a gerrymandered congressional district,” Ryan said, referring to Congressman Alcee Hastings’ 20th Congressional District. “I’m not sure he’s aware of these issues up here.”
Yohe also reported that the district presented the Town of Loxahatchee Groves with a proposed interlocal agreement on Feb. 2 for maintenance of roads and berms. He expects approval at the council’s meeting on Feb. 17, and it should come back for LGWCD approval on March 9.
He said he gave the draft to Town Manager Bill Underwood last week, who had not had time to review it completely. “It is quite lengthy,” Yohe said.
Ryan said reaching an agreement has been difficult due to statutory limitations of the district.
“It’s not an easy agreement in the sense that it is implementing a local bill that was passed, and it is not just an absolutely natural combination of abilities because you’re dealing with district easements and, as per the local bill, a perpetual use permit given to the town that authorizes the construction and maintenance of the trails, and then combines our canal maintenance roads with that agreement and tries to really suit the objectives of both entities,” Ryan said.
Supervisor Frank Schiola asked legal staff if the district will still be able to access the canal maintenance roads, which are planned for adaptation as horse trails.
LGWCD Attorney Mary Viator said one of the issues was drafting an agreement that would not have the district compromising its primary responsibility.
“Everyone needs to understand that the district’s primary responsibility is drainage, and we have to have access,” Viator said. “That is communicated in the agreement, that the trails will be part of the ongoing maintenance, to make sure that there is a provision for access.”
Widing noted that a provision of the agreement states that use of the easement by the town for equestrian trails is subordinate to the uses of the district.
Viator added that most of the details had been worked through with Town Attorney Michael Cirullo, who was reviewing the agreement with the town manager.
Yohe noted that the maintenance maps, once they are recorded, will be part of the agreement. The maintenance map survey contract was awarded to Erdman Anthony in January.
Viator said that some of the delays have been due to getting the maintenance maps finished. Widing said that he wanted the public to understand the reason for the delays.
LGWCD Chairman Dave DeMarois said the district and the town were working together so they can open equestrian trails, but it has to be done in a specific way.
In other business, the board granted Yohe a 3.7 percent raise during his annual performance review.