Town’s Troubled Drainage Gates Need Swift Repairs

Public Works Director Larry Peters updated the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council on Tuesday, Aug. 1 regarding repairs needed to the town’s drainage system, as well as suggestions for a generator at Loxahatchee Groves Town Hall and easement issues that have held up some planned paving projects.

Peters first updated the council on “storm season priorities.” His focus was on the drainage gates at Folsom Road near Crestwood, A Road near the Palm Beach State College campus, and two on D Road near the town’s public works building. Peter noted that the problem was not exclusively with the gates themselves, but with the systems that control them.

Many parts of the system are old and need replacing. The current gate system dates back to 2004, and at the moment, only the D Road east gate is functioning properly.

“Out of four gates, we have one that actually works,” Peters said.

The two at D Road are powered by a three-phase motor. While it should shut down when it loses power, that has not been happening properly, which has twice led to one of the motors being destroyed.

“We need a better phase monitor to shut down the motor when it loses power, so it doesn’t burn out,” Peters said.

On the brighter side, the town recently upgraded its computer system.

“We are in better shape electronically if we could just fix a few minor things,” Peters said. “With the gate system, there is a lot of work to be done, and we’re in the process of doing it.”

Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said that the repairs should be done correctly, once and for all. “Do you have a number to make this right?” she asked. “I don’t want to just put a Band-Aid on it.”

Town Manager Francine Ramaglia said that the repairs can be funded by money already in the budget, and if additional money is needed, the town could use part of the recent $750,000 appropriation from the state for stormwater management.

Peters said he is collecting the numbers to fix all the issues. Maniglia said it should be prioritized as part of the upcoming budget year.

Vice Mayor Robert Shorr said that the money should be there already to fix this issue. “We recognized this last year and put $35,000 in the budget to repair the gates,” he said. “We also put in money to make the pump house safer.”

Next, Peters turned to his recommendation to get a portable generator for the town hall building.

“This building has storm windows, and is better suited, in my opinion, for an emergency operations center,” he said.

He explained that while town hall has the hookup for a generator, it does not have one. His suggestion was to contract for a portable generator to be on site during the storm season. The price from one vendor for that is $3,100 per month. The building would need an automatic transfer switch for a seamless power shift.

“We should have the same thing here that we have at public works, and just have a generator sitting out there so that any time this building goes out of service, it clicks back on, and we don’t miss a beat,” Peters said.

A permanent generator system is more expensive. An initial bid came in at about $130,000 for the 400-amp service needed at the building.

Maniglia supported adding a generator system at town hall, but she doesn’t like a portable diesel system. She wants to look into using the existing natural gas line on Southern Blvd. “I think it is necessary, but I’d rather not spend $100,000 on one,” she said.

Shorr asked if having an EOC is necessary. “Right now, there is no plan for an EOC command center,” he said.

Ramaglia explained that there are many things that the town needs to do immediately in the wake of a storm.

“We have damage assessments and all types of FEMA reporting that needs to be done,” she said. “We have a whole emergency management manual.”

Mayor Laura Danowski said she does not support purchasing a generator.

The council consensus was to pursue quotes for a generator at town hall, either renting a portable generator, which is more affordable over the short term, or getting a permanent system, which is pricey up front but saves money in the long term.

Regarding the town’s ongoing paving projects, there were 11 road segments scheduled for the current fiscal year. Of those, seven have been completed. The other four have been held up due to easement issues.

Three of those four were held up by one property owner with parcels touching Folsom Road, 25th Street North and West G Road. The other issue is on North E Road, which could be paved up until the very northern section, where a property owner has not granted an easement.

Peters gave his opinion that while the proper documents have not been found, he believes that the easements exist and have for a very long time. “It is my opinion that we don’t need their approval,” he said.

Given that fact that several of the property owners already have lawyers involved, the council was not willing to proceed without proof of easements. Instead, Peters gave suggestions for other roads to pave, including Gruber Lane and Casey Road, which are possibilities for next year’s paving work.

Shorr said that the roads planned for next year, like Gruber and Casey, have wider easements available and will not have this problem.

“I don’t think we need to rush a solution,” he said. “All the people I talk to like the paving, but there’s reasons people choose not to give easements.”

According to Peters, the North E Road property owner is worried about paving leading to the long-discussed E Road and 140th Avenue North connection.

Peters said that is not going to happen because of existing town policy. “And if the county was going to do it, they would do it on the east side of the canal because they own that property,” he said.

E Road can be paved up to that property line, Peters added.

Councilwoman Marianne Miles supported including that in next year’s plan. “It is not fair to everybody else who has been waiting,” she said.

While Peters offered to make a change order to pave the easier roads instead, the council consensus was to hold off until the next budget year, when a new list of roads will be included among the capital projects.

On one final item, Peters updated the council on his efforts to repair canal berms. The repairs need sod to prevent future washouts, and he has been getting some sod donated by a local sod farm. It is remnant sod that would be thrown away if not donated. Ramaglia said that if the relationship continues, the council will need a consent agenda item to accept the donations.

In other business:

  • The council unanimously approved an updated agreement with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for the upcoming fiscal year. The new agreement includes a three percent increase from the current year of approximately $19,000, bringing the total to $660,092.
  • The council also approved an updated legal agreement with its law firm of Torcivia, Donlon, Goddeau and Rubin. The updated agreement included a rate increase from $205 per hour to $235. The firm’s rate has not increased since 2019. The increase was approved, but not before a disagreement between Maniglia and Danowski over council member meetings with the attorney.