Recovery from Hurricane Irma is well underway in Loxahatchee Groves, but damage to town roads during debris pickup is hampering repairs. More work will depend on financing to build up the town’s gravel roads to a level for proper grading, according to Town Manager Bill Underwood.
The town’s contractor, Bergeron Land Development, completed its first pass to pick up storm debris and was making its second pass over the past week, he said.
“On Saturday, we started grading the dirt roads to put them into some kind of condition before they started the second pass,” Underwood said. “They started the second pass, and we went to a second contractor, because Bergeron was very busy handling the waste debris, so we got all the roads done. I’ve gotten a lot of thank-yous and a couple of no-thank-yous, but most people are pretty happy. Unfortunately, every time it rains, dirt roads get bad.”
He said Bergeron did an assessment and that, for the 16 miles of roadway the town had possession of at the time, it needed 1,119 loads of rock to bring those roads up to grade. Now, though, the town has almost 41 miles of dirt roads since the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District has turned over all its remaining roads to the town.
“That doesn’t count the OGEM roads or the paved B Road,” he said, adding that all the roads are now passable, although far from ideal. “Unfortunately, the reality is that the residents have not had to pony up any money to the town to pay for road maintenance. We have always used state money to maintain the roads. If the roads are not going to be at the level that the residents like, unfortunately, we’ll probably have to go to the residents and ask them at what level they would like and how much would they like to spend.”
Underwood said the town does not have sufficient funds to bring the roads up to a satisfactory level of service.
The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council allocated an additional $100,000 at its last meeting to grade and buy rock for roads that were at the poorest level of service, but Underwood said that is not nearly enough for complete rehabilitation.
To grade the additional 25 miles of dirt roads that the town has inherited will cost about $138,000 a year, he said. Based on the recent cost of buying rock and putting it down, it will cost about $605,000 for the original 16 miles of dirt road.
Underwood said that the town has completed what he calls an “interim grading.”
“We had to get something to smooth [the roads] out, but the machinery used to remove the vegetation is big, it’s heavy, and it tears up roads,” he said. “Last year, we spent two years of state funding to do things for the roads in one year. You just can’t continue to do that.”
Underwood said residents will need to come to the town to petition for an assessment for complete road improvements.
“The issue is, and I have brought it up three or four times, ‘Would you like us to implement an assessment program?’ Each time it just kind of fell on deaf ears, but at some point, it’s going to be, ‘Yeah, you’ve got to do something.’ Unfortunately, there’s just not enough revenue to take care of the roads the way residents may want them taken care of,” he said.
Bergeron’s current goal is to bring the roads up to grade so that they are of paveable quality, but that is difficult when the rain washes away the progress they’ve made.
“There’s not enough money to bring them up to grade, and to keep them up to grade, without assistance from the citizens,” Underwood said. “We don’t have an unlimited spigot or money tree.”