Stormwater improvements are needed in some areas of Windermere, but correlating minimum standards for the town’s dirt roads has been a hot-button issue.
Such standards were the focal point of discussion during the Oct. 13 Town Council meeting. Ultimately, they were approved 4-1, which clears the way to go from concept to design.
Staff was directed by Town Council at a workshop months ago to come up with typical dirt-road sections that would utilize the most minimal standards and least impact possible.
These minimum standards allow for grant funding, and typical sections allow for consistent maintenance plans. Staff has requested direction from Town Council on a handful of stormwater/drainage projects — including First Avenue and Forest Street, as well as Butler Street and Seventh Avenue.
“Right now, we have three grants that were awarded to us via the Local Mitigation Strategy funds, which is directly connected with Hurricane Irma,” Town Manager Robert Smith said. “When we submitted for these grants, we pretty much generalized that there’s flooding issues in these areas, especially when there’s heavy downpours. It creates a public safety and health/welfare issue, especially some access issues based on the washouts and flooding that have occurred in the past.”
The town received the grants to move forward with the stormwater projects, but to comply with grant-associated contracts, the town must meet minimum federal, state and engineering standard guidelines. That includes minimum shoulder widths and lane widths.
Additionally, because the town has chosen to maintain the dirt roadways, the drainage solution would be a swale system.
The decision at hand for council members was whether to approve adhering to minimum standards to allow the town to use the grant funding.
“To keep this money and move forward with the projects — because right now, we haven’t even started design — if the town is not willing to meet the minimum standard for these three projects only, then … for us to maintain our status as in good faith with the grantors, we would like to go ahead and give that money back,” Smith said. “(We) as staff want to know: Do you want us to go ahead and proceed with meeting those minimum guidelines and coming up with a plan moving forward?
“This has nothing to do with all dirt road projects in and around town,” Smith said. “This is only if we are going to proceed with these grant funds.”
Pushback from residents has stemmed mainly from the road widening and impacts to existing rights of way, increased traffic and speeding. Concerns also include protecting the trees and lakes, as well as maintaining the town’s charm in general. According to staff, based on the new standards, these impacts will be minimized.
“We all realize that we definitely need to mitigate our stormwater and we need to make sure that we’re protecting everybody, all our neighbors, to ensure that there’s no flooding,” resident Dean Miller said. “We’re just asking that we revisit the design … and see if there’s a way we can come to some middle ground that will allow us to not be so intrusive and more consistent with the town’s character.”
Council Member Chris Sapp said staff and contractors have worked tirelessly to come up with an amenable solution to get to this point, and it doesn’t make sense to risk losing project funding.
“Did the first proposal come out overzealous? Yes,” Sapp said. “But by coming up with concepts, at least we have a starting point for the road and stormwater projects moving forward.
“When it comes down to brass tacks, we are talking about a couple feet here and there,” he said. “I, for one, cannot do nothing or support Band-Aids and risk losing funds, because in the end this project has to be done, and we have the money in front of us to do it now.”