The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council recently discussed options for having town roads declared a state of emergency due to deteriorated conditions from recent rains, with more wet weather expected.
At the June 19 meeting, Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said he had researched the question after a previous meeting, where council members had asked him about the possibility of declaring an emergency due to the state of town roads.
“The thought was that if you could declare a state of emergency, it might make you eligible for some funding sources,” Cirullo said. “The issue with the state statute is that, obviously, its intended to have a narrow window of the state of emergency of seven days to really deal with what is occurring on the ground in real time. So, I don’t think it was intended to have a standing state of emergency.”
Cirullo recommended searching for potential funding sources such as grants that can be identified that will cover road repairs.
“We could work and see if there is any action that the council could take at that time that would enhance our eligibility for those funds, if a specific type of grant or specific type of relief can be identified for the roads at that point,” he said.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia asked if the council could reach out to the Florida Department of Transportation for some sort of emergency assistance.
Cirullo said that was possible, but that declaring a state of emergency would not work under the statutes.
“There’s local, state and federal sources of funding that may be accessible,” he said. “They just need to be identified.”
Cirullo said the town manager is in a position to be made aware of funding opportunities.
“I’ve passed on some things that some of our other clients have received from groups such as FEMA and the federal government to see whether he could review them as well, so we do keep our eyes open for those opportunities,” he said.
Mary McNicholas, who chairs the town’s Unified Land Development Committee, said she had done some research after raising the question at the council’s previous meeting.
McNicholas said she had also reviewed the declaration of emergency and Florida Statute 252, which Cirullo had addressed.
“I also met with the mayor of Palm Beach County and also staff,” McNicholas said. “What I found was that pretty much it looks to me that it could be in the town’s best interest because we’ve been suffering continual damage to our road system during and since Hurricane Irma, we’ve had storm damage and cleanup, and also, we’ve had continual rain events — ‘rain assaults,’ as I keep calling them — on the already unstable infrastructure system. Primarily, we have washouts that have been addressed at least three times… since the beginning of an unusually active rainy season.”
McNicholas felt the town should at least try to request emergency assistance for support of the road system through the county’s Division of Emergency Management, as well as the state under the emergency management statute.
“It’s typically seven days, but it’s going to start raining again in a couple of days… I think we wind up being in a state of emergency every 10 days. My point is I don’t know what you have to lose by doing this,” she said. “I certainly can help. Your town manager has quite a work load in front of him now, and he also is going to have a huge transition period in the next couple of weeks.”
McNicholas said she had researched other potential funding sources, such as economic development and public/private ventures.
“I’d be happy to be a resource to you all if you want to pursue any of these, but I got very positive feedback from our Palm Beach County mayor and also our staff,” McNicholas said. “I do believe that our mayor is incredibly supportive of making us a polished gem, but right now we’re a diamond in the rough. I think with that support, we could do some really good things.”
Maniglia said she supports the council accepting her offer.
“Mary lives in our town,” she said. “She has a love of our town. She is very well versed, obviously, in our roads department, and I do believe that she could help find us funds.”
Maniglia made a motion for McNicholas to present an agreement that staff could negotiate with and bring it to the next council meeting. Vice Mayor Todd McLendon seconded the motion, cautioning that he did not want to approve a state of emergency just for town staff to get the problem figured out six days later.
“I’m somehow wondering if we can let Mary proceed, let Bill [Underwood] proceed with finding what’s available, not declare an emergency tonight, and if they find something, we can have an emergency meeting.”
Maniglia said the town has an issue right now.
“It’s quite obvious that the water control district is not going to repair their berms,” she said, referring to berms the district had removed on A Road that were partially covering the road. “I’ve been up and down these roads. We have a problem on North Road — there’s actually a hole going through. Who knows what’s going on underneath that? I think we’re in an emergency situation now.”
Cirullo pointed out that they were digressing into two different conversations.
“You may not need to declare a state of emergency for what is being proposed to you to engage Ms. McNicholas,” Cirullo said.
He suggested that McNicholas and Town Manager Bill Underwood work together on the issue.
“They could come to a mutual understanding on an interim basis, and if it works, and Bill wants to propose a more permanent relationship, bring that back on July 17,” he said.
Cirullo pointed out that the motion that was made would cover that type of arrangement. “I don’t think you need to declare an emergency to do that,” he said. “We know we can declare an emergency if we need it.”
The motion carried 4-0 with Councilwoman Joyce Batcheler absent.