The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors decided to go back to a private contractor for aquatic weed control on Monday after a certified staff member resigned.
LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe said aquatic weed control was brought in-house in May 2015 when the district was not receiving a satisfactory level of service from contractors.
“Due to a field staffer resigning, the uncertainty of conveying district roads to the town and reluctance to hire a replacement until that issue is resolved, it is recommended that aquatic vegetation control be conducted by a contract service provider to make best use of district personnel,” Yohe said, reading from his report.
Supervisor Don Widing said he thought the intent of trying to do the work in-house was good, but that he had been concerned about exposure of staff to chemicals, and liability if there is an accident.
“Personally, I’ve always had concern about the liability to our employees,” he said. “I applaud the employees with what they have done, but in the middle of August, in an encapsulated suit, and worrying about exposure to the products… I think it was good intentions, but we’re not professionals. That’s not our area of expertise, and I don’t think we need to burden ourselves with that.”
Widing also reminded other board members of the number of private contractors that the district had that had not lived up to expectations.
“We terminated one after another,” he said. “I don’t know if it was the product or the weather. We’re talking about a lot of science.”
Widing was also critical of the varying amount of the bids, from $23,690 per year by Aquagenix, which was awarded the bid, to other bids of $50,340 and $85,706.
Yohe said the total cost was $33,000 a year in-house. The district budgets $21,000 annually for the service.
He also pointed out that Aquagenix was the district’s contractor for a decade before 2012, when the supervisors put the contract out to bid after the service was performed unsatisfactorily one year.
“They had a crew come in and do a terrible job one year, and that’s when the board went back out to bid,” Yohe said. “We gave it to another contractor for a year, and they were even worse. We put it out to bid again, and Aquagenix was the low contractor. It comes back to the level of service that you want to get. I think this will be an adequate level of service.”
Yohe added that the district will save money by not having to purchase protective gear.
Supervisor Simon Fernandez asked for specifics about the protective gear, and Yohe said that it is up to the operator to protect himself. He said he and a staff member took the aquatic weed control course for licensing, and protective gear is a choice of the operator.
Fernandez was concerned about the safety of the operator wearing the suit on hot days. “He could get heatstroke and fall in the canal and drown,” he said.
“That was my concern from the very beginning,” Widing said. “Heatstroke can get you quickly in that thing.”
Former Supervisor John Ryan said in his years on the board, it was a constant problem to get the providers to live up to their contract.
“We spelled it out. We want 80 percent control of vegetation, and if there is a problem, we want them to respond within 24 to 48 hours to any specific issues that come up,” Ryan said. “None of them have lived up to that degree of vegetation control. The response time has never been complied with.”
Ryan said a quick response is imperative, especially during emergencies when vegetation is clogging up a culvert, or when treatment is inducing a fish kill. He suggested going with Aquagenix and keeping a district staff member as a backup.
LGWCD President Frank Schiola said it has been an ongoing problem with private contractors providing the needed level of service.
“That’s why we went in-house,” Schiola said. “They started coming out, then all of a sudden, they started slowing down. They used the excuse that they had other clients they had to deal with, or it rains too much, or there’s too much water, or we don’t have the right chemicals, or we’re trying to find the mix to do it — and meanwhile, the canals are growing over with all the floating grass.”
He supported keeping the job in-house.
“My deal is if we do it in-house, the buck stops here,” Schiola said. “When we go out for something like this, the buck stops with them, and that’s where it’s stopping… I’m not sold on this, especially at this low price.”
Schiola said he would favor going with Aquagenix but keeping district equipment as a backup, but Yohe said aquatic weed control does not lend itself to two separate entities maintaining the project.
“It’s a process that one manager needs to manage, not two,” Yohe said, explaining that if the provider is not performing up to expectations, the district would find another contractor.
Supervisor Laura Danowski made a motion to award the contract to Aquagenix, which carried 4-1 with Schiola opposed.