The Royal Palm Beach Village Council heard a report last week that aquatic vegetation in the canals has been brought under control by a new contractor that has been maintaining the canals over the past six months.
“The system is in very good shape right now,” Public Works Director Paul Webster said at the April 16 meeting. “There will be some areas that will need work, but overall we’re in very good shape as we start into the growing season.”
Webster said the findings are based on soundings that the contractor, Lake & Wetland Management, conducted in the first week of March, which found that the system, including the M-1 Canal, was 83.7 percent clear, which is slightly below the standard of 85 percent.
He said the contractor is currently treating canals in La Mancha for tapegrass, and the M-1 Canal near Lake Challenger for hygrophila and rotalla, plants commonly found in aquarium tanks.
Another area in La Mancha is being managed for chara, also known as muskgrass, which is native to Florida and is actually a form of algae that has positive benefits to water quality and the overall biological condition of the canals.
“What we do with chara is try to manage it at control levels that keep it from topping out and becoming a nuisance,” Webster said. “If it tops out, it looks like foam, and it’ll have an odor. Our management has been to keep it maintained below those levels so that we get the benefit of the good parts of it, but we keep it from becoming a nuisance.”
Another factor that affected the percentage was that ponds in the FPL easements at the beginning of the contract had been overloaded with spikerush, another Florida native that grows in moist soil and shallow water that can get out of control.
Webster pointed out that the contractor had initially focused on the main waterways.
“They’ve done a very good job with that, and they have treated the spikerush,” he said. “It has, for the most part, been killed off, but when they did the soundings, even though it is dead, it is still counted as biomass.”
The management plan with the spikerush will be to cut out the dead material and remove it.
“It’s not one of those plants that will uproot on its own,” Webster said. “It’s just dead, brown sticks. They’ll have to come in and mechanically remove it and haul it out. That process will start over the next few weeks.”
Webster said no-spray and littoral zones in the village add to the percentage, but need to be preserved in order to maintain a healthy aquatic balance.
“They are actually functioning as they should,” he said. “We have those in several areas, but the major area that we have littoral plantings is over in Commons Park. They were designed to be that way.”
From last September, Webster said, conditions have improved from 78 percent to 84 percent. “It’s not a lot, but the system has improved,” he said.
Vice Mayor Richard Valuntas complimented the contractor on the progress so far.
“We actually got an e-mail sent to all the council from someone on our planning and zoning board who said what a wonderful job you guys are doing,” Valuntas said, also pointing out that people who have complained about canal overgrowth in the past were not there that evening.
Councilman Jeff Hmara agreed, saying that the absence of complaints was an indication that the new contractor was doing a good job.
“It looks like we’ve got a contractor who knows how to do the job,” Hmara said. “You all are working well with him, and it’s a good combination. It looks like we’re headed in the right direction. We’ve just got to stay on top of it.”
Councilman David Swift asked about the control of tapegrass (valisneria), another beneficial native plant when managed, which had been an issue in the M-1 Canal.
Webster said the tapegrass had been cut back in anticipation of the summer growing season.
“They have worked very diligently to get the system to that point where we have minimized the amount of valisneria,” he said. “It’s not eliminated, but we have minimized it.”
Village Manager Ray Liggins pointed out that the village did not have the ability to control growth in the M-1 Canal until last summer when it reached an agreement with the Indian Trail Improvement District, which controls the canal. “That was a huge handicap in the past that we don’t have now,” Liggins said.
In other business, the council authorized the village manager to proceed with contract negotiations for the sale of the former wastewater treatment plant site to Lennar Homes, which plans to build 300 single-family residences there.
Liggins said that village staff has been working with Lennar, which was the highest bidder at $34.3 million in a request for proposals to build single-family homes on the 151-acre site on the north side of Crestwood Blvd. west of the M-1 Canal.
Liggins pointed out that the contract on that evening’s agenda had not yet been signed by Lennar, and asked the council to give Lennar 10 days to sign the contract or it would have to come back to the council.
Once the contract is signed, Lennar would give the village a $97,935 deposit, which would start an investigation period of 60 days. At the end of the 60 days, Lennar would have the option to continue with the purchase or back out and get its deposit back.
“If they continue with the purchase of the property, they will have to put down another deposit of $587,613.26, and then we have it set to close no later than Dec. 13, 2015,” he said.
Lennar is looking to build the site plan that the village marketed, Liggins said. If any changes are proposed, they will be brought to the council for approval in several required hearings.
“We’ve already placed land use on the land,” he said. “Rezoning still has to be put on the land, architectural and aesthetic review, and special exceptions as it relates to the zoning and the [planned unit development].”
Liggins expects those changes to come to Royal Palm Beach Planning & Zoning Commission and the council by November.
Councilman Fred Pinto said he considered the closing an important milestone for the village.
“We made a tremendous amount of progress, and the sooner we get the contract executed, the sooner the clock really starts in earnest,” he said.
Pinto made a motion to authorize the village manager to move ahead with the contract, which carried 5-0.