NEW: Road conditions shape Loxahatchee Groves town council race


The condition of town roads is taking center stage as three candidates vie for a seat on the Loxahatchee Groves town council.

In the March 13 election, Councilman Ron Jarriel, 66, will face a pair of political newcomers challenging him for Seat 1 on the council: 60-year-old Phillis Maniglia and 21-year-old Neil O’Neal III.

RELATED: Use our Know Your Candidates tool to see where each candidate stands on key issues

Seat 3 on the council, held by Councilman Ryan Liang, also was up for election. But Liang declined to run again, and Realtor Joyce Batcheler was elected unopposed.

Care for the town’s network of dirt roads long has been an issue, with the topic appearing on nearly every town council agenda since the governing body held its first meeting in 2007. It was after Hurricane Irma, however, that the issue came to a head.

About two weeks after Irma passed through, the town assumed maintenance responsibility for 16 miles of dirt roads from the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District. Those roads already were in rough shape, council members later said. The district had graded them regularly for years, but that work was done without replacing layers of base rock that were sheared away.

RELATED: ‘A forever fight’: In local town, battle lines are drawn on dirt roads

Irma’s winds and rain wreaked havoc on the roads, with large pits forming on some. In the months since, the town has worked to balance the cost of hurricane-debris cleanup with repairing and maintaining the entire network of town roads, including those that are paved using a composite called open-graded emulsified mix, or OGEM.

Jarriel, who is running for his fourth term on the council, said he would like to exhaust the town’s reserves before raising taxes or approving a special assessment on residents. All three candidates pointed to a $5 million bond the town is in the process of obtaining. Jarriel said Town Manager Bill Underwood hopes to have that in hand by the end of the year.

“Five million dollars can go a long ways when it comes to roads,” Jarriel said.

He called current road conditions “deplorable,” and said he voted against the town taking over the roads from the Water Control District because there was no maintenance plan in place. “We had to have a plan to give those residents the same service they were getting from the district,” he said.

The state of the town’s roads is “unforgiveable,” Maniglia said. “Our town is in the worst condition ever,” she added. “We don’t even have it in our budget to be able to fix those roads.”

As a Realtor who represents numerous properties in the town, Manigilia said she has seen deals go sideways when a prospective buyer has to bounce down a washboard road. “Things have been going really well,” she said. “We were discovered a few years ago by the equestrian community. These are people from all over the U.S. and the world coming here to build their barns.

“For this council to drop the ball on our roads during the winter season was damaging,” she said.

In addition to the bond for road work, Maniglia said she also believes an assessment could help pay for the much-needed work.

“We have to acquire more funding,” O’Neal said, adding that could be through an assessment or raising the town’s property tax rate.

Adding new road rock could cost the town about $2 million, he said, citing estimates from his discussions with Underwood. The district’s grading practices “eroded away” the roads, leaving the town in a bind, O’Neal said.

“These roads did not get this way overnight,” he said.

All three candidates mentioned possible support for the town to assume control of the Water Control District. A bill moving through the Florida Legislature, HB 1093, would make the district dependent on the town, with the town council assuming the board of directors role. The House approved the bill on a 109-3 vote last week. If the bill is signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the decision will go to Loxahatchee Groves voters in the fall.

Jarriel said he does not support making the district dependent on the town, but if voters give the OK to make the district dependent on the town, the town should use the money it previously sent to the district to hire personnel and lease equipment to perform road maintenance themselves. Currently, the town contracts that work with MJC Land Development.

He told a crowd at a Loxahatchee Groves Landowners Association candidates forum last week that in the past six months he has changed his opinion on the move, and he will know by the vote in October whether or not he will support it.

Maniglia said she supports making the district dependent because it would bring potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars back to town coffers — money that could be spent elsewhere.

O’Neal said the district should become dependent and then be converted into a public works department for the town, which could handle road grading.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Wellington game shooting: Too close for one family in more than one way
Wellington game shooting: Too close for one family in more than one way

It all started with a cryptic text from their daughter. “I’m safe,” Hope Lerman had written to her parents, defense attorney Gregg Lerman and his wife, Debra. “I’m with Coach Pagley.” It was Friday night, and the Lermans had expected their daughter home late from one of the most highly anticipated football games...
UPDATE: Fuel tanker rolls over, injures 2 and shuts down I-95 lanes in Lake Worth
UPDATE: Fuel tanker rolls over, injures 2 and shuts down I-95 lanes in Lake Worth

7:30 P.M. UPDATE: According to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, the rollover crash involved a fuel tanker. Two people were injured and transported to a hospital by helicopter. All lanes were reported to be open. 7:05 P.M. UPDATE: According to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, the rollover crash involved a fuel tanker. Two people were injured and...
Shooting at football game in Wellington not a ‘school’ shooting
Shooting at football game in Wellington not a ‘school’ shooting

Detectives are still piecing together what really happened amid the pandemonium after a shooting at the Palm Beach Central-Dwyer high school football game Friday night. But they, school officials, parents and students alike by Saturday had all reached the same conclusion about the incident: it was not a “school” shooting.  One or both...
Wellington game shooting: Pre-K teacher huddles with teens in lockdown
Wellington game shooting: Pre-K teacher huddles with teens in lockdown

WELLINGTON – The moment pre-K teacher Britt Downey was ushered into a room by the front offices of Palm Beach Central High School late Friday, hours of code-red lockdown drills kicked in. Downey, who teaches students with autism at Loxahatchee Groves Elementary School, wound up under a desk in a room along with six teenage girls after shots were...
Florida man, 88, allegedly set raccoon on fire for eating his mangoes
Florida man, 88, allegedly set raccoon on fire for eating his mangoes

An 88-year-old man was arrested Friday for allegedly setting a raccoon on fire for eating mangoes in his yard in Palm Bay, WKMG-TV reports.  Ezra James told authorities he was afraid the raccoon would bite him and give him rabies, said WKMG.  A neighbor called 911 as the raccoon burned alive. "I throw some gasoline on him and I...
More Stories