“Thing-A-Ma-Digger,” Loxahatchee Groves’ long-arm-reach excavator, inherited from the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District and largely unused for several years, got a new lease on life last week when the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council decided to put off selling what some council members considered a surplus piece of equipment.
The excavator was purchased with approval by the now town-dependent LGWCD with a $325,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture at the request of then LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe to dig out canals to their design specifications.
Yohe ran a program to execute the plan, but the district, already short on personnel, was instructed at the time to focus on road rehabilitation. The plan was put on hold, and the excavator fell into disuse.
In response to council members’ recent request to unload the excavator, Public Works Director Larry Peters said at the Tuesday, June 2 meeting that he had found an auctioneer willing to advertise and sell the excavator, but he said the machine could be useful for the purpose it was intended, namely keeping the canals clear, especially with hurricane season here.
Peters pointed out that a large tree had recently fallen into a canal on West D Road.
“We went up there. We looked at the tree, and we thought, ‘This is a 65-foot tree with a large girth that had fallen from a private property,’” he said. “Our supervisor said, ‘Nah, we can’t do this. Let’s get a bid.’ We called a [contractor], and he wanted $6,500 to remove that tree from our canal.”
Staff was able to remove the tree with the help of Thing-A-Ma-Digger — the name given the excavator by Loxahatchee Groves Elementary School students in 2014. Peters pointed out that the machine has rubber tires, enabling its quick dispatch to get to work without the need of a transport to get it there.
“We started the Thing-A-Ma-Digger and drove it up D Road, cleared West D Road and graded it afterward in an hour with our crew,” Peters said.
The long-reach excavator was also used to repair a leak in a canal gate, and improvised rakes on its bucket were used to remove vegetation from the canals, he said.
“Also, the past [LGWCD] administration did a canal restoration. The bottom of the canal is supposed to be a certain width, and the sides of the canal are supposed to be at a certain ratio,” Peters said. “They cleared 19.5 miles of canal with that Thing-A-Ma-Digger. There’s 10.5 [miles] yet to do.”
He also pointed out that banks of some canals are falling into the water, suggesting a pilot program using the excavator to restore portions of the canals, placing riprap below the water line to prevent the banks from collapsing.
“With hurricanes coming, if there’s a tree across the road, a tree across the canal… we could use it,” Peters said, adding that his crews would be finished with road restoration soon, freeing up staff a couple of days a week for a canal restoration project.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia was opposed to seeing district staff doing canal restoration when she felt they should be focused on improving the look of the town.
“I don’t want to build our staff up again,” Maniglia said, asserting that the town should hire contractors to do tree and canal maintenance. “We have a crew right now that can maintain the town, and I think that’s the priority here.”
Councilman Robert Shorr disagreed, saying he felt the staff was doing great work.
“You’ve put down a million dollars’ worth of road rock,” Shorr said. “If we paid a contractor to do that you could add at least another million dollars in labor and equipment costs, so I think it’s safe to say you probably saved the town a million dollars in the last year and a half. Kudos for going out there and clearing a canal, addressing not only a road safety issue but a canal safety issue.”
Shorr added that he would support a canal restoration pilot project.
Councilwoman Laura Danowski also supported the work that has been done. She would favor adding another staff member, and possibly floating a bond issue to fund canal restoration.
“Granted, I like the idea of using people who do this for a living, but you’re going to pay for it,” she said, adding that she felt now is not a good time to sell the excavator.
Vice Mayor Marge Herzog said allowing an expensive piece of equipment to sit unused as it has the past several years was not a good idea, and it probably should be disposed of.
Mayor Lisa El-Ramey asked if the canal system is functioning the way it should, and Peters said it was with a few exceptions, but added that the issue was that the roads are falling into the canals.
Council members asked Peters if there was enough money in the budget to cover a restoration project using riprap, and he said he wasn’t sure.
Shorr asked Peters to come back with an estimated cost of a restoration pilot project
Danowski said she did not favor getting rid of the excavator during hurricane season.
“It’s kind of silly to throw out a tool that you might need within the next couple of months,” she said.
El-Ramey agreed with Danowski but wanted to see some hard numbers on a canal restoration, which will be brought up at the council’s July meeting.