LGWCD Board Addresses Canal Trash Problem

The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors on Monday discussed ways to clean the community of trash, especially in the canals.

The canal trash problem became evident when recent canal dredging unearthed large amounts of trash and junk along with silt.

Resident Virginia Standish pointed out that water levels have been low, which not only presented a fire hazard in the event firefighters have to draw water from canals, but also exposed debris in the canals.

Former Supervisor Don Widing said he noticed that the district is losing canal banks to erosion and encouraged the board to mow the top and leave the sides alone to allow growth on the sides in order to slow erosion.

Supervisor Karen Piesley said she would like to see the trash cleared from the silt pulled from the bottom of canals, surmising that digging out the canals causes more dirt to fall in.

LGWCD Administrator Stephen Yohe said the silt is stacked at the side of the canal and allowed to dry. Day laborers are hired to pull the garbage out. He explained that canals are dug out to maintain their design capacity to handle extreme storm events, and to let water drain from residential properties.

Supervisor Simon Fernandez said that the district and town should start addressing the issue of trash by enacting a law requiring residents to put trash and bags in cans so loose trash does not wind up in canals and animals do not tear open the trash bags.

Supervisor Connie Bell noted that Marge Herzog of the Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association solicits young people to help clean roads and canals, and agreed that if the town enforces requirements for trash containers, it would be helpful.

She added that the town has discussed trash bins like those used by many municipalities but said it would be costlier than the present service.

Bell also pointed out that illegal dumping is easy to trace. “If we find out it is your trash, we will take it to the next level,” she said.

Yohe said district staff noticed recently there were about 20 tires and 20 bags of potting soil dumped on the side of a road.

“The most irritating thing is soda cans, sandwich wrappers and bags from people going to work,” he said.

Fernandez added that dumping is illegal and subject to stiff punishment.

“I don’t think residents are oblivious to the fact that dumping is punishable by law,” he said, adding that the district could start by notifying residents to put trash in cans, and crack down on companies such as landscapers and nurseries that put their trash out at the expense of residents.

He also suggested working on a pickup policy so residents don’t have to bring trash out beside the canals.

Yohe said the district should coordinate with the town to have a unified approach. He vowed to start discussion at the next Intergovernmental Coordination Committee meeting on Feb. 28.

Piesley said she did not recall seeing district staff out cleaning roads, other than big stuff, and Yohe said his staff cannot commit time to cleaning debris without sacrificing other projects.

LGWCD Chair Anita Kane asked to see if the district has money in the budget to hire day laborers to pick up trash.

Bell added that the district should work with the town to resolve the trash problem.

Dennis Lipp, chair of the town’s Planning & Zoning Committee, said during the incorporation effort, they discussed what kind of laws to pass to control littering, and said they found that laws don’t work unless they are accompanied by stiff penalties.

He said his wife and friend go out periodically to pick up trash.

“That’s really the key,” Lipp said. “If you’re proud of your neighborhood, you want it to look good. What we need to do is incentivize residents to clean up.”

Fernandez said he noticed there are many people doing community hours and suggested tapping into that potential resource.

Fernandez asked Yohe whether trash is cleared during the canal cleaning operation, and Yohe said most of debris is in the sludge, which must be allowed to dry before removing the trash.

Fernandez suggested using a mesh to filter debris as it is removed from the canals. Yohe said that would slow canal cleaning, and that the district’s primary objective is to ensure drainage, and removing trash is secondary.

In other business, Yohe showed the board a map of culverts scheduled for cleaning of silt, and culverts to be sawn back due to damage caused by district mowers. Prior to the saw cut, the district will notify owners and will gain permission to saw and clean the culvert.

Kane asked when it will start, and Yohe said in May, when the district will also start moving an earthen bank off the OGEM paving on North A Road.

Yohe said the district will rent special equipment to do that project, adding that all Okeechobee Blvd. culverts had been cleaned, greatly improving drainage in the north end of the community, and explained that unless the canals are cleaned, more dirt would be pushed into culverts.

The board also rejected a set of second bids to conduct a forensic audit on the remaining $400,000 loan for OGEM road resealing and maintenance secured by the district, which would revert to the town.

Kane said the prices of about $53,000 far exceed the $10,000 she anticipated, although they were lower than approximately $100,000 during the first round of bids. “Our intent was to make sure all records were safe,” she said. “For my money, I would say it’s too much.”

She suggested it would be more prudent to have the board treasurer meet with town staff and see if they have specific questions.

“I think this is way over the top,” Kane said. “If they want a forensic audit, leave it to them.”

She added that there is now talk by the district and town of paying down the loan, which remains at about $400,000, which was to be used for clear-coating maintenance of OGEM roads.

Fernandez made a motion to reject all the proposals, which carried 5-0.

The board also decided to pay off its BankUnited loan. Yohe said he received an e-mail from the town manager stipulating that the council had voted to recommend that the board consider returning that loan to the bank.

The board also reviewed staff plans to publish a newsletter about the district explaining what it does, what it has done the past 14 years, and how it spends the property owners’ assessments. The four-page printed newsletter, to be mailed to all residents, will also direct readers to a web site, which has an expanded newsletter.

The newsletter will include topics such as the annual landowners meeting, which will now coincide with town elections in March, rather than its former June date, and explain how the change has resulted in the extension of sitting supervisors’ terms.

It will also include changes in staff vacation and sick time, the latest information on becoming a dependent district — which passed the final legislative committee meeting on Tuesday — as well as special projects.

Fernandez asked that the newsletter include information on how to dispose of garbage and give information on a tire collection project.

Herzog reminded residents that the LGLA will host a town council Seat 1 candidates forum with Ron Jarriel, Phillis Maniglia and Neil O’Neal on Thursday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. at Palms West Presbyterian Church.