SEBRING — County commissioners approved another $160,000 to the Memorial Drive Pipe Replacement project in hopes it will get done soon.
County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. pledged it would get done this year. The additional funding, he said, is to pay for the extra money needed to de-water the drainage ditch, which has filled up significantly from where it was eight years ago.
The project began in 2010 with discussions of replacing a pipe under Memorial Drive where it flows into a small drainage ditch that empties into the western cove of Lake Lotela. The intent was to replace the pipe under the road and then extend the pipe the length of the canal, essentially closing it in.
At the time, Howerton said, the lake levels were low enough that clearing out the ditch would have been easy. By 2013, water levels were still low, and clearing the water and installing pipe still would have been relatively easy.
Now, the water level is four feet above where work crews would need to put the pipe, which will mean a far more expensive dewatering operation, Howerton said.
The project was originally $55,000, and the pipe has already been bought, Howerton said. Approximately $27,000 remains. The additional $159,998 should cover the cost to get the project done this year — as opposed to waiting for a drought to return.
Jonathon Harrison, Road and Bridge director, said they looked at different sizes of pipe and different angles of placement, but couldn’t find a solution that would not incur dewatering costs.
Commissioner Kevin Roberts spoke at length on his concerns that the county needs to do something soon, as the raised water levels are affecting the lake wall of an adjacent residence. He said Jim Brooks, his predecessor on the Board of County Commission, was adamant that the project get priority for completion.
He said he wouldn’t object to waiting a month or two for water levels to recede somewhat, because it would cost less to dewater. However, he pointed to erosion problems on the ditch that are creating dangers to the structure of the adjacent house and a safety issue for anyone walking in the area.
It was such a hazard, Roberts said, that the county has installed a safety rail where the ditch meets the road right of way. The county has had the drainage easement since 1980, he said, and has been discussed by commissioners for at least 20 years, and has yet to see any work done on it.
Harrison said a proposal in the interim to install rip-rap to control erosion in the ditch, but that proposal was declined. He believes that would have prevented erosion damage.
A challenge to getting it done, Harrison said, will involve where to pump four feet of water once they prepare to dewater the ditch, but he believes he and Howerton have come up with a good estimate of an amount to cover that cost.
Commission Chair Scott Kirouac said he figures the cost to dewater won’t change much with the water level. Howerton said it may take as much as two years of drought to get water levels low enough — and dry the subsoil enough — to avoid dewatering.
The county will have permitting costs, too. Harrison said he’s been waiting months on state permits for another project. He expects it might take as long at least four months for this one.