It looks like the dust finally may be settling over the Indian Trail Improvement District’s road millings policy.
The ITID Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 on Wednesday, Aug. 16 to revamp the policy. They also gave at least a three-year paving reprieve to residents of 94th Street North following emotional pleas centered around retaining the dirt road’s rural ambiance.
“We need a policy that is followed and is clear and consistent,” Supervisor Keith Jordano said.
ITID Vice President Betty Argue agreed. “We need to be able to definitely say to residents who bring in a petition that, yes, it qualifies and, yes, it’s getting done within this fiscal year,” she said.
Under the new policy developed by ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson and district staff, residents of a dirt road with a 50-percent-plus-one petition asking for millings will no longer have to wait in line to be one of the first five petitioners at the ITID offices on the first business day of the fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Instead, residents will have five business days to present their petition at ITID’s offices at 13476 61st Street North. All qualified petitions will be accepted, and the five streets to be guaranteed millings in that fiscal year will be selected through a blind lottery. Residents would not have to pay $500 up front to participate in the lottery, but those selected for millings would be charged.
Once the petition is accepted and the road is selected for millings, there is no mechanism for backing out, Hanson said recently.
Meanwhile, residents of dirt roads selected through the district’s block formula — that is, selecting multiple roads in a specific area for millings — will be notified through the mail and via door and gate hangers. If any property owner on that road objects to millings, ITID staff will contact all property owners on the road to determine the wishes of the majority. Precautions will be taken to ensure that the responses are legitimate, Hanson said.
If residents vote down millings for a particular road, it cannot be added back into the block plan for three years.
At present, the policy applies only to quarter-mile and half-mile roads, but a revision to the policy to include all the district’s dirt roads is scheduled to come back before the supervisors at their Wednesday, Sept. 20 meeting.
However, some residents, including former ITID Supervisor Christopher Karch, suggested they wanted nothing to do with millings — also known as reclaimed asphalt pavement or RAP — because they assert it damages the environment.
“They’re a health hazard,” asserted Karch, who owns an engineering firm and has lived in The Acreage since 1987. Later, he said, “Millings break apart. They get into the swale, then into the smaller canals, then into the larger canals, where they can leach into the groundwater… Protecting our drinking water is imperative.”
A better way of dealing with the district’s nearly 400 miles of dirt roads would be to “retrofit” them with a rock base that stabilizes the road and establishes the first step for traditional asphalt paving, if residents want it, Karch said.
Still, millings are a popular road covering that has lower maintenance cost than dirt roads and is much cheaper than traditional paving, according to ITID staff. About 90 million tons of RAP are used each year, Federal Highway Administration data shows. ITID crews put down about 20 miles of millings per year, and could do 50 percent more if funds were available, according to a recent staff report.
Hanson said recently that it is not financially feasible for the district to continue to maintain several hundred miles of dirt roads. A report recently found that doing so would cost ITID more than $22 million over the next 10 years.
Despite changes to the petitions policy, Argue said the district’s overall policy on millings remains what it always has been.
“As long as it is financially feasible, we’re going to mill the roads, if residents want it,” she said.
As part of the same millings discussion, supervisors voted down a compromise plan to mill 94th Street North from Mandarin Blvd. east to the L Canal and leave it dirt from Mandarin west to 190th Street North. Residents of the road in the northwest part of The Acreage have been jousting for some time with mill and don’t-mill petitions.
“There are going to be situations where we’re going to have to make decisions that are going to make some people happy and some not,” Supervisor Elizabeth Accomando said. “Some of those people are desperate to get that section [milled].”
However, it was the anti-milling contingent that came out in force and passionately spoke against milling any part of the two-mile-long road.
Shelli Smiley, a professional equestrian who lives near the L Canal, said that keeping 94th Street North dirt is essential to her livelihood and the way of life she cherishes.
“I am the equestrian community [in The Acreage],” said Smiley, who has lived in the area since the 1980s and on 94th Street North since 1998. “I use that road. I ride my horses down that road… It’s how I maintain them to compete professionally.”
She added that beyond her professional needs, there is a rural character to the place that a milled road would wreck. “This is my piece of the pie,” she said.
Smiley described walking barefoot across the road to fish in the canal and seeing deer, wild boar and even Florida panthers over her morning coffee while looking out on the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area.
“I just want to live on my beautiful dirt road,” she said. “Please don’t take away my dream.”
Accomando said she was disappointed in the outcome, and especially the aggressive language directed at the pro-millings residents, whom she suggested were intimidated into staying home and not participating further in the debate.
“I’m saddened by some of the incidents that have occurred,” she said. “I’ve been guilty of being overly passionate at times, and I vow to do better… All [the fighting] is doing is creating divisiveness in the community.”