It goes back as far as a promise then-County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin made to residents of Daytona North in 2011: that the paving of Water Oak Road would begin the following year. It did, if in smaller segments and at a slower pace than McLaughlin hoped.
“The main thing I’m here for is you,” McLaughlin told his West Flagler constituents at the time. He was quoted back then by Julie Murphy, in an article she wrote when she was a News-Journal reporter, about the free barbecue McLaughlin was hosting that August day at the Hidden Trails Community Center.
Murphy closed the loop Tuesday. She was the author of a county government press release heralding the 10 a.m., Aug. 2 ground-breaking ceremony at the intersection of Mahogany Boulevard and Water Oak Road in Daytona North, marking the “the beginning of the final construction phase to provide the community with a second paved north-south evacuation route,” Murphy wrote, “a project that has been a decade in the making.”
McLaughlin will probably not be at the top of the invitation list, West Flagler now being the district represented by his arch-rival and nemesis, Joe Mullins, who, as Mullins frequently does, is falsely taking credit for a project he had little or nothing to do with. “We are getting more infrastructure improvements done in our county than most throughout the state,” Mullins posted on one of his social media pages–under his actual name, in this case–referring to the groundbreaking while attending a partisan political event out of state.
Mullins, whose fabrications are legion, has also falsely taken credit, for example, for securing money for the county’s dune reconstruction projects–money secured entirely either by Faith al-Khatib, the county engineer and whose Houdini-like skills at outsmarting the locks and chains of state and federal grants long pre-date Mullins’s rookie tenure on the commission. (He is running for re-election.)
The 2.5-mile project in West Flagler, Murphy’s release noted, will pave Water Oak Road between Mahogany Boulevard and County Road 2006, continuing the work that began in 2012. At the time, Flagler County received Community Development Block Grant money to pave Water Oak between State Road 100 and Mahogany Boulevard, the northern end of the project.
A 1.6-mile segment of Water Oak Road was paved in January 2013 with an $874,000 Community Redevelopment Block Grant and a disaster recovery supplement of $318,000. Water Oak parallels County Road 305, still the only entirely paved evacuation route for residents of Daytona North. The completion of the paving project will end that anxiety-inducing distinction.
“It took a little longer than what I hoped it would be,” McLaughlin said in an interview today, recalling details of the project with precision–uncannily so, considering the stroke he suffered in February 2021, “but with personnel changes and things like that, you expect some things to fall through the cracks. But I’m excited for the folks out there. If I lived out there I’d be like, wow, this is great.”
McLaughlin today described how the county had to carry out the project piecemeal, trading one project for another with the Florida Department of transportation through what he called the “scop and scrap” programs, acronyms, he said, for the Small County Road Assistance Program and the Small County Outreach Program. Those programs again are the funding sources for the $5 million project about to break ground. Florida infrastructure projects as a whole are benefiting from a $13.1 billion infusion of federal dollars from the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, enabling the transportation department to broaden its reach. That sum does not include additional available dollars for more specific projects.
The Water Oak Road repavement had initially been scheduled for 2020–at least that’s what a Department of Transportation official (Gene Ferguson) had told the county commission in an outline of nine planned road projects when he appeared before the panel in December 2014. (“I am excited to see that both of these roads are on the plan,” McLaughlin said at the time. “I’m glad to see that they (FDOT) recognizes the need we have on the west side of the county.” The wildfires of 2011 still fresh in residents’ minds, he noted the importance of improving evacuation routes in the eventuality of natural disasters. (In 2020, three miles of Mahogany Boulevard were repaved.)
Residents along Water Oak have also complained for many years of flooding issues, which the project will alleviate. “I have a 30-year mortgage. I hope the work is done before my mortgage is paid,” one such resident had said at a February 2012 town hall meeting that Murphy had also covered for the news-Journal. In the meantime, the transportation department elevated portions of the road (and reinforced unpaved roads in Daytona North with crushed concrete).
“This has been on our project list for a very long time, so we are glad to have the funding to complete it,” said Project Manager Amy Stroger. “It’s an important project for this rural area of our county.”
Completion of the Water Oaks Road paving project is estimated for Spring 2023. When finished, the roadway will have 11-foot travel lanes with 6-foot stabilized shoulders. The project includes the drainage work standard for a paved roadway–pipes and regrading swales–as well as signage and striping, the release states.
Of dozens of roads that crisscross the Daytona North community, only one east-west and two north-south streets are currently paved.
County Road 305, the eastern border that is technically just outside Daytona North, runs between State Road 100 and U.S. 17 in Seville. Once Water Oak Road – which runs between County Road 2006 and State Road 100 – is paved, residents will have a second paved route to S.R. 100. “This is about evacuation. This is about public safety. This is what we need to do to get people out of here,” McLaughlin had told local residents in 2013.
Johnson, Mirmiran and Thompson did the design and permitting work for this portion of the paving of Water Oak, GAI Consultants will provide Construction Engineering and Inspection (CEI) services, and the construction was awarded to P&S Paving.
While he served as commissioner McLaughlin led the 18-month efforts to open a new well providing potable water at the Hidden Trails Community Center–an effort that at one point involved then-Gov. Rick Scott and speedy permitting, and that briefly had a few people talking about naming the well after him. Will they rename any portion of Water Oak after him now?
“No, no they shouldn’t, no more than they should call it the Nate McLaughlin well,” the former commissioner said. Referring to local residents, he said: “They did this. It’s really the community owns this, it’s never about an individual. Never should be. We come through, we do what we can do.”