The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors approved an agreement Monday with the Town of Loxahatchee Groves to allow the construction of multipurpose trails along district canal easements, as long as they are fenced to protect property owners that abut them.
LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe said the district had also received communications from Town Manager Bill Underwood advising that the town would prefer not to get permits for development of the trails, but Underwood had been advised that the town would need to have a permit, for which the board approved a form.
“The town manager was also advised that fences must be constructed where they are currently not in place to protect landowners and [provide] a level of respect to the landowners, and also to protect the equestrians,” Yohe explained.
LGWCD Attorney Mary Viator said that there had been an issue regarding the fencing and explained that attorney Frank Palin had been working on language consistent with the town’s comprehensive land use plan.
Palin said the language does not require the town to construct trails or improvements to the rights of way, but if trails are initiated, the town would be required at a minimum to install fencing along the canal easements on lettered roads to the extent necessary to ensure the safety of riders, animals and residents.
“The key language I’m using here is taken directly from the town’s comprehensive plan,” he said.
Viator said the proposed amended interlocal agreement and permit form would be final if the town approved them.
Supervisor John Ryan said he was concerned that the town might not approve the amended form and felt that the issues could be worked through at a joint workshop set for Tuesday, May 19 before the council’s next meeting.
Ryan added that the two bodies had agreed in a workshop last November to surveying and mapping the canal easements, but town staff had drafted a more comprehensive agreement than had been discussed.
“I felt at the time that the district and the board were misled,” Ryan said. “It really should have been a whole lot more simple than it has turned out to be.”
He said the district and the town had worked to get a local bill passed by the legislature that led to an agreement.
“That was accomplished in May 2014,” Ryan said. “In August, the district submitted the first draft agreements to follow the outline of the bill, which, incidentally, was written by the town attorney. It’s difficult to understand all the motivations, but I’m sure there were concerns about paying the cost of fencing and paying for construction of trails that might have to meet grant requirements.”
Ryan added that he believes that some people have purposefully delayed progress on the agreement.
“As recently as this morning, the town again took the position that they did not want to be bound to install trails or to construct anything regarding the trails, and this is just another back step to prevent this from happening,” he said.
Ryan pointed out that fencing was always a provision for constructing the trails.
“I do think that the workshop still needs to be scheduled so that if there is any interruption in the process, that can be addressed specifically as a workshop item, and then it will be totally up to the town council to make the decision, and we won’t have this background set of negotiations, obstructions, disappointments and delays,” he said.
Supervisor Don Widing said he was also frustrated by the delays.
“We have had staff and legal working on this for a long time,” Widing said. “If we have two legal firms that can’t give both entities something they can agree with, I don’t know what a workshop’s going to do… I’m just disappointed that we have not been able to get a ‘yes’ on this.”
Widing said he wanted to know what the remaining central issues were.
“What the town’s issues are is not my business,” he said. “That’s what we have the attorneys for, but, for crying out loud, this has gone on way too long.”
Widing added that he did not want to go into a workshop that could possibly result in more turmoil.
Supervisor Frank Schiola read parts of the e-mail from Underwood that the board had received that afternoon, stating that the town had not anticipated spending a lot of money on fence construction and engineering, but indicated that it would comply if that was what the district wanted. The letter continued that the town’s estimated cost of construction without engineering and construction plans would be about $5 per linear foot.
“This doesn’t make sense,” Schiola said. “Without a construction plan for fencing, how are you going to put in the fencing?”
Schiola added that he thought the town was stalling and trying to make it seem that it was the district’s fault. “I want to get this moving forward,” he said.
LGWCD Chairman Dave DeMarois asked about details of the agreement, and Viator said the fencing requirements would be part of the amended accord, and that a permit would be issued by the district, which would be approved by the council, not the manager.
“Now it’s the responsibility of the council to review this, and then the monkey’s on their back to say yea or nay,” DeMarois said, adding that he saw no reason for a workshop if the final decision was in the hands of the council.
But Ryan said he believed the workshop was scheduled to clear up details, including the ability of the town to get grant funding for the trails.
“I think that the issues of working with the landowners after the surveys and maps are completed is looked at as an unpleasant series of discussions,” he said. “I think coming up with the money to put up the fencing is something that the town budget has allowed for, but it’s going to take management time.”
Although Ryan favored a workshop with the council, he said he was concerned that other issues might be raised that would result in more delays.
Ryan made a motion to approve the amended agreement, subject to legal review, and it carried 4-0 with Supervisor Robert Snowball absent.