The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council discussed the possibility last week of hiring an additional contractor to help with the drainage projects that the town is wrestling with. Such a contractor could also work on other drainage issues, such as obtaining drainage easements.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia led the discussion on Tuesday, June 18, explaining that she would like to put out a request for proposals for the town’s drainage projects.
“I feel that a lot of the contracts that have been consummated in the past should be reviewed,” Maniglia said. “I think it’s very clear to us that now people want to work for us, so I’m curious how the next RFP would come in as far as our drainage. I would like to set something up to complete our drainage because I think we’re dragging our feet.”
Maniglia said she was aware that reports indicated that drainage projects were on schedule, but she felt if there was a second company involved, as well as the current contract, the projects could get done more quickly.
Councilwoman Laura Danowski agreed with seeking additional RFPs.
“I will carry the banner of ‘drain them and maintain them,’” Danowski said, quoting Mayor Robert Shorr’s comments on drainage.
“We have equipment, we have the crew,” Danowski said. “The key point is educating the public on the drainage program.”
Danowski noted that at a recent meeting of the Finance Advisory & Audit Committee, a preliminary suggestion was made to raise the assessment to $400 an acre, which was adamantly rejected by FAAC members.
“We need some serious housekeeping,” Danowski said. “We need to start pulling contracts apart and making people be competitive for us.”
Shorr said he would prefer to bite off the challenges a little bit at a time than raise the assessments.
“You can’t do that to the people so you can get it done in two years,” he said. “We need to stay consistent and bite off what we can.”
Shorr, however, supported the RFP idea.
“I think it’s like some of the other programs, where once you do it a few times, you’re going to realize there’s a better way to do this in a more cost-effective way,” he said. “I would love to, if you want to give staff direction to put together another RFP for drainage.”
Danowski pointed out that when the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District was independent, it had a policy that if a resident wanted drainage, he or she had to buy the pipe and the district would install it.
Shorr said that situation was different in that it was to provide drainage directly into a canal.
“What we’re talking about is stormwater retention,” he said. “Get the water off the road and into the swale, and if the swale fills up, it goes into the culvert.”
Danowski said there is little differentiation cost-wise in what is being provided now and what the district used to do, and Shorr agreed that culvert replacements, where needed, should be incorporated into the storm drainage contracts.
“You could have a ditch and a weir at the end of the ditch, so it fills up first, because the goal is that the water sits in the ditch, and once it fills up, it flows into that culvert,” Shorr said.
Town Manager Jamie Titcomb asked that the council use restraint in light of its having just previously approved details of a new solid waste RFP for staff to process.
“I would caution you, that because of the capacity of the town and staff, let’s get the garbage RFP inked and dried and on the table before you direct us to start another big-ticket RFP,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on right now, and we’re working on it concurrently, but let’s sequence this a little bit.”
Titcomb added that there is no argument from staff that drainage and road maintenance go hand in hand.
“Identifying that road grid and getting solutions to these problems is our priority job, so whether you direct us to do an RFP or not, we’re moving in that direction as we can identify and upgrade the way we deliver these services,” Titcomb said.
“I think we just got our reins pulled in,” Maniglia said.
Assistant Town Manager Francine Ramaglia asked if the town should continue with its existing contract, which had been put on hold when matching funds were going to be used to help finance the projects, explaining that the only projects moving forward were those that had been approved with a purchase order and an easement.
Maniglia said some of the projects had been passed on by the contractor when they were not granted an easement by the property owner. She suggested bringing up the matter at the council’s next meeting.
“I know you guys have your hands full putting this RFP together [for solid waste pickup], but we’ve got to rock ’n’ roll on this drainage,” Maniglia said.
Danowski said she would rather be methodical than hasty, pointing out that she was aware of two engineering firms that were interested in bidding on canal bank restoration.
Shorr said the work that the town has done putting asphalt on F Road and a canal bank restoration pilot program has established numbers that the council can use as guidelines for projects it can afford, which is $60 per foot for a canal bank and two inches of asphalt at $180,000 a mile.
“Those are numbers that we know work, when we look at budgeting and how much we can bite off,” he said. “We know there are contractors out there that will do it at that number and, hopefully, there’s some that will do it for less.”
Shorr added that one of the keys to the drainage improvement program is persuading property owners to grant drainage easements on the front of their property.
“I’ve talked to some people about it, and I’ve got some, ‘Yeah, no problem, I’ll do it in a heartbeat,’ and I’ve gotten cussed out a couple of times,” Shorr said, pointing out that a lot of the persuasion is through personal relationships.
He suggested finding “road captains” — an idea first brought up by Councilwoman Lisa El-Ramey — to help get the drainage easements.
“That person maybe has the rapport with the people on the road,” Shorr said, suggesting that some of the council members might be able to fill that role. “I’m hoping that program can move forward, and we can reach out in that avenue, because it’s really important that we get as many as we can.”