It was supposed to be a one-day repair that was not going to affect traffic on Royal Palms Parkway for more than a day, at most. The job was to be done on Spt. 16. Instead, the piping that was to be repaired collapsed, making the road impassable and leading to a much bigger repair job that will now cut a trench across the road to replace the pipes. That work won’t start until Sept. 27, and it won’t be done until around Oct. 11. The work will be done in-house.
Until then, all traffic is barred on Royal Palms Parkway–one of Palm Coast’s few and most-trafficked east-west through routes–from Belle Terre Parkway to Rickenbacker Drive. But no residences are affected by the closure: no driveways front on Royal Palms. And the piping in question is a set of stormwater pipes that do not affect residential water supplies. Even in case of a serious rain storm, pumps have been installed to evacuate the water that would have normally coursed through the piping beneath the road, so there is no danger of water backing up or flooding nearby residential lot.
The infrastructure failure, however, is indicative of a problem across the city: ITT’s infrastructure, laid down in the 1970s and 80s, is old. It is literally rotting, in the word of Kevin Nelson, the city’s stormwater maintenance supervisor who oversees much of that infrastructure, and it is breaking down simultaneously in many parts of the city. This isn’t a new problem. The city has been trying to stay ahead of the rot since 2012, when it approved the first very large increase in residents’ and businesses’ stormwater fees. At the time the city was generating $5.3 million from that revenue source but with annual needs of $7.6 million. A 46 percent fee increase was intended to help. It turned out to be not enough: repairing piping like the one under Royal Palms was not part of the plan, and other infrastructure needs emerged.
In 2018 the city council approved a plan that is on course to double stormwater fees from $11.5 in 2018 to $24 by 2024. It did so with little controversy: the council routinely set aside politics when it came to essential and critical needs within the city. It is difficult to imagine that today’s council would do likewise, despite the persistent needs.
In 2018, pipe inspections and repairs had a paltry $525,000 budget. The 2018 plan the council approved accelerated that to $2.5 million a year, with $2.15 million a year earmarked for pipe replacement at road crossings. In all, the six-year, $75 million plan is repairing, replacing or rehabilitating pipes, 31 major water control structures, 13 lakes, retention and detention ponds and canals, and 154 miles of ditches. Just a few weeks ago, the City Council approved a nearly $1 million contract to reinforce tens of thousands of feet of aging gravity sewer pipes in the W and P Sections. In 2019 and 2020, the city’s contractors had reinforced 60,000 feet of such pipes.
Most of those repairs are being conducted largely out of the public eye. Only rarely do infrastructure failures interfere with the public. (See the full plan as projected in 2018 here.)
The Royal Palms Parkway failure is one of those times. In an interview with FlaglerLive, Nelson explained the issues surrounding the failure and its coming repairs.
The one-day repair job was being carried out by a company called Advance Plumbing Technology–curiously, the very same company that lost the bid for the W and P sections to do similar work, because it was found to be “Non-responsible: Minimum experience requirement not met,” according to the bidding documents.
They were conducting what’s called “lining” pipes, or CIPP–cured-in-place pipe lining. It’s a method that enables the repair of aging, cracking pipes beneath roads or between without having to dig up the pipe, create “trenching,” remove existing piping or jeopardize the foundation of homes. It’s also much faster. A flexible liner filled with a resin mixture with an epoxy base is inserted into the failing pipe, which is then inflated and heated with boiling water, enabling the mixture to harden and resulting in a smooth pipe. The result is a very strong structure that extends the life of the pipe “at least 60, 70 years,” Nelson said. Watch a brief explanation:
Advance Plumbing’s workers were implementing those steps in the pipe beneath Royal Palms. “They didn’t do anything wrong,” Nelson said. “They cleaned the pipes and sometimes, when the pipes reach a certain degree of deterioration, water can either make the pipes collapse or open up new holes and bring soil via sedimentation inside the pipe.” There are actually two 125-foot pipes running across the road. Both will be replaced.
“They almost made it to the end before the pipe collapse and then that kind of set off a chain reaction,” Nelson said. “The pipe sandwiches down on itself and that creates an immediate void in the soil.” So any pressure from the top of the road, from vehicles or trucks, would end up collapsing the road to some extent. That’s been visible even within 24 hours of the collapse of the piping beneath the road. “You can already see a dramatic dip in the road the asphalt was starting to crack,” Nelson said. So it would not have been safe for traffic to resume on the road while awaiting the repairs starting next week.
The work will be done in-house by Nelson and his crew because it’s faster and cheaper than going through the procurement process and bidding out the job to another company. The job will be done for $54,000, Nelson said. If the job was contracted out, it would cost the city “well over $100,000,” he said. “We took on this job as a challenge for ourselves to save taxpayer money,” Nelson said. “We want to get the job done as quickly as possible because you got to keep in mind, if we contract this out it has to go through the same process as any contractor. It has to be bid out, there has to be a contract written up. It just it takes weeks, even in an emergency.”
The reason it couldn’t start until Sept. 27 is because Nelson still had to order and truck in the needed construction supplies–over 200 tons of lime rock road base, 100 tons of gravel, the piping itself (almost $20,000 just for that). “We’re estimating two weeks to be safe. I don’t want to make promises in case something goes wrong,” Nelson said of the timeline ahead. A lot of the equipment, including the piping and the road base, was in place by Wednesday. A different contractor will conduct the finishing, visible touches–the paving and striping for around $3,000.
“My crew members are very talented. They know how to do it,” Nelson said. The crew consists of Foreman Tim Lowe, Paul Bartnik, Andrew Torres, Mark Johnson and Brian Levan.
Meanwhile, “we have vehicles that ignore our barrier signs and try to get through there, but this one, this is actually a lot better. This is minimal compared to when we shut down Seminole Woods,” Nelson said. “Seminole Woods was a lot worse as far as people trying to cut in and use the cut-through.”
Given the aging infrastructure across the city and the still-pending list of needs, this may not be the last surprise inconvenience for city residents.