Wellington Council OKs Plans For Little Ranches Culvert

The Wellington Village Council approved a contract Tuesday to replace a 24-inch water main coming from a well field in Little Ranches with a new PVC pipe.

The action authorized the award of a contract for $167,921.04 to Ferguson Enterprises Inc. for the purchase and delivery of 24-inch PVC pipe and fittings and mechanical restraining devices to build a culvert crossing to cover the pipes, which would run underneath the C-28 Canal.

Originally, the contact was on the consent agenda and was not planned for discussion. However, about 30 Little Ranches residents attended the meeting to express concerns about the design of the replacement pipe, which included a 20-foot crossing for public works to access the area, which many felt was a preamble for another access point to their neighborhood.

Little Ranches has only one access point in an out, along Southern Blvd. south of Royal Palm Beach Blvd.

Residents said having one access point helps maintain the security of the community and prevents excessive traffic that would frighten horses.

Village Engineer Bill Riebe said the request was to replace an existing water main within Little Ranches. The design was to get the most efficient, cost-effective solution and still provide the necessary level of service.

“The water main project is an approved project in the 2015 capital improvement plan,” Riebe said. “We need to replace this particular pipe. It’s a critical piece of infrastructure for our community.”

He said that village staff met with the Little Ranches Property Owners’ Association on Jan. 6 to discuss several projects that affect them, including the planned culvert crossing in question and the possibility of installing a service drive across it.

“All of this was done in an effort to reach out to the neighborhood so they know what we’re trying to accomplish, and what our goals and intentions are,” Riebe said. “As part of the meeting, the POA rejected the service drive, but they approved the culvert crossing provided that there are protections, including [the prevention of] pedestrian access across the canal.”

Riebe said that the current plans do not include the service drive, explaining that the drive was removed from the plan, but that the village continues to receive e-mails and other communications expressing concerns about it.

He said the pipe needs to be covered to protect it from the sun and vandalism, adding that a steel pipe running over the canal would create rust in the water that would foul the membranes of the village’s reverse osmosis water treatment plant.

“It’s that critical a piece of structure, so we’d like to bury it because our water treatment plant can’t take a lot of iron,” Riebe said, adding that the water supply will actually be through several mains that must be separated a certain distance, making the width of the crossing necessary. “The minimum width we need across the top is 22 feet. That’s what’s required to protect the pipe. We’re not proposing to put in this huge thing because we want to. We designed and engineered it so we can fit the things that are required across this land bridge within that section.”

The cost for the crossing is about $34,000, and the additional cost for a service drive, if it were installed, would be about $8,300, he said.

“Vehicular access is going to be prevented by a guardrail along the road, so the way we have it designed, it won’t be a service drive,” Riebe said. “In addition to that, we’re going to install chain-link fences that extend across the canal to prevent pedestrian access.”

He added that if the service drive were included, access would be solely for water plant personnel to access the well field.

“Right now, for water plant personnel to access the well field, they have to go all the way up to Southern Blvd. to Little Ranches, all the way back south and then back east to access the well field,” Riebe said. “It would eliminate drive time and provide better service.”

During public comment, Little Ranches resident Jim Mantrozos said he had not heard about the proposed crossing until the day before the meeting and did not see the need for it to be that large.

“I don’t see the reason to put that massive land bridge over the canal,” Mantrozos said. “I think we’re being misled. We do not want this. This is an equestrian community.”

He also questioned concerns over security. “We’re worried about a 24-inch pipe?” he asked.

Jeremy Spencer, a 34-year Little Ranches resident, said he had seen Wellington grow up around him and wanted to preserve his community. “We like our neighborhood the way it is,” Spencer said. “There are two people in Little Ranches who have water. It benefits Wellington. This bridge will degrade our neighborhood.”

Tatiana Yaques, a volunteer attorney for Little Ranches and a two-year resident there, pointed out that the community existed before Wellington did, and the residents have fought off previous attempts to install a bridge. “This has happened before,” Yaques said. “They can come in overnight and pave it.”

Dr. Kristy Lund said she owns the piece of property that every vehicle goes by in the community.

“We have break-ins in trucks all the time,” Lund said. “We want one road in and one road out.”

Little Ranches resident Tom Kelly said that he is one of the residents who has fought bridges over the years, which resulted in an overlay for the community.

“We have had excellent relations with previous council members,” Kelly said. “I thought this was resolved many years ago. Our position is clear. We should not have to reiterate it.”

Village Manager Paul Schofield said one of the first things he did with the village was to create an overlay to protect the unique character of Little Ranches, which is still under that protection. Schofield reiterated Riebe’s comments that the culvert crossing is to protect the water main, which is required under provisions of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

“There was no intention by staff to provide access through there,” he said. “We could cut it way under the canal, but that would be expensive.”

Vice Mayor John Greene agreed that they need to bury the pipe and assure that the Little Ranches residents are protected. “Let’s find a way to get this done without compromising the integrity of the neighborhood,” he said.

Councilman Matt Willhite said the crossing was not an attempt to change the lifestyle of Little Ranches residents, but questioned why the top had to be 22 feet wide. He asked if the proposed crossing was the least expensive option to offer security and not have people drive across it.

Riebe said they had explored several options, including a horizontal cut, which was cost-prohibitive. He also pointed out that if they cut below the canal and have a failure, getting to it would take days. “It’s a manmade thing; it’s going to fail,” he said. “The solution we’ve come up with is the most maintainable and least expensive, and I think we could mitigate concerns.”

Mayor Bob Margolis said he was concerned about comments that the community did not have input and suggested a town hall meeting to air concerns. “What I heard is neighbors did not hear about this,” Margolis said.

Riebe reiterated that they had conducted meetings with the POA and received multiple e-mails. “We eliminated the surface drive because people did not want it,” he said.

Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said she thought the guardrail remaining intact would prevent vehicular access and made a motion to approve the contract, which carried 5-0.