Some 100 people, 16 of them left standing, jammed into the commission chamber at Flagler Beach City Hall to hear the city engineer and contractors talk about the ongoing, $500,000 swale-construction projects on several city streets and avenues, including South Daytona.
The project has upset residents, whose questions City Engineer Fred Griffith took, one after the other. It was a barrage of criticism punctuated by applause for those whose criticism resonated. But this was certain from the get-go: the city is not changing its overall course, though it may do so in the details.
The swales will continue to be dug. The project is contracted and paid for. The contractors digging swales may be more sensitive to some of the residents’ concerns, and the city engineer pledged to perhaps divert some of the planned digging to side streets rather than through South Daytona: “We’re going to take a serious look at some of these side streets and focus some of the money, maybe all of the money, on the side streets,” he said.
But it had taken a circuitous route to get the city engineer to make that statement. The residents’ questions pointed to the issues the project has created, at least in residents’ view.
Many questions still remain unanswered, and many were not answered to residents’ satisfaction, especially for those whose yards have already been dug. Frustration coursed through the audience the longer the meeting stretched past the hour mark, by which time many of the same questions and doubts circled around Griffith and his team.
“We’re hearing the same questions over, people are getting upset,” a man said 75 minutes in. “Is it a done deal?” The simple answer to that was yes, in the sense that digging will continue, albeit not necessarily where it had originally been planned.
“Why didn’t we have a meeting before all this happened?” one resident said, to applause.
“Never one time has south Daytona and my area have flooded, never,” another resident said, pointing out how pictures of flooding the city disseminated were all from other areas, not South Daytona. “Take the money and use it where it’s going to do some good.” That got applause, as did variations on the same theme as resident after resident spoke of living along South Daytona for years without ever seeing stormwater issues. “I’ve lived in Flagler Beach 55 years I’ve never, ever seen flooding on that road,” one man said.
“This seems like a knee-jerk reaction to losing a grant,” another said.
Another resident said he lives in the middle of a flat road, surrounded by flat lots that never flood. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Now, car accidents, I send them to you?” He said his neighbor who’d been driving off his driveway for decades was now worried about driving off the edge of the driveway. And the “curb appeal,” he said, “is gone,” hurting property values.
“My concerns is, it’s the dimensions,” a resident said: residents have been told the swales are 9 inches deep, which he said is not accurate, nor consistent. He said residents were told the swales would not encroach more than 7 feet. But they have.
“I’ll acknowledge that it’s been overdug in some areas,” Griffith said.
And so it went. Yet another resident spoke of the way the swales have eliminated parking and created hazards for bikers, dog-walkers, pedestrians.
“It seems random on whose yards got dug,” another resident said. And why not build swales in areas that need them rather than those that don’t?
There was only one compliment as two dozen people spoke one after the other: The contractors have been “super nice,” a compliment Griffith himself did not get.
Some residents attending tonight’s meeting termed him “disrespectful” at times. He was lambasted for making a sarcastic remark toward a resident. Another resident sneered that he is not as concerned about issues locally because he lives in Port Orange. And toward the end of the meeting, a woman accused him of sneering and making people in the audience seem “stupid.”
Jacksonville-based Kimley-Horn designed the project. It’s contracted to Jacksonville-based W. Gardner LLC. It’s paid for through a grant from the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Griffith sat at a table with three other men–two from Kimley-Horn, one from W. Gardner, one of whom summarized what the project-designers see as the chief benefits of the project: it may not affect non-existent flooding on South Daytona, but it keeps water from running downhill, where flooding has been a problem. He said no driveways, mailboxes or trees are being removed, nor are improvements that homeowners have done within public property affected. He described it as a “very cost-effective solution to the drainage problems” in the city. The alternative, he said, is building stormwater retention ponds, which is not possible since there aren’t many lots left that the city owns, and underground sewer systems are prohibitively expensive.
Oak Lane, Palm Drive, Cumberland Drive, Palm Avenue and Yorkshire Drive have all been completed. “I think the residents are quite pleased because they had flooding and standing water issues that’s been resolved,” Griffith said.
Meanwhile South Daytona looks messy, he conceded.
There were concerns about runoff from the recently completed construction on State Road A1A. Griffith said the drainage system there is retaining some 11 inches of rain, which is going to prevent runoff. “That will have a great benefit to our community, A1A won’t be flooding all our community anymore,” he said. But the system has yet to be tested, he noted.
That made no sense to a resident, who remarked that if A1A’s new drainage system is so effective, why tear up streets to the west?
“That’s a point. That’s a point,” Griffith said. “However, this is still going to be beneficial, in my opinion, my professional opinion.”
The city will allow residents to line swales with gravel, allowing for parking–but not filling in swales. Griffith said the swales will not be making the road less safe. The swales are designed to be dug at a 10 percent grade off the road, which one of the officials at Griffith’s table said was not a hazard for cars coming off the roadway.
The contractors pledged to be more responsive to residents’ concerns to the extent that they can address them, including verifying the slopes of swales.