After decades of neglect, the city of Maitland is looking to takeover control of a polluted ditch that serves as a pass-through for much of the water in the city’s lakes.
Currently under the control of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the ditch located near Monroe Avenue and Gem Lake has seen little to no improvement in maintenance in decades, said the city’s Lakes Manager Coordinator, Marissa Williams.
“FDOT has been doing very minimal amounts of maintenance in this ditch,” she said. There’s probably tens of thousands of dollars of maintenance that could be done.”
Transferring control of the ditch to the city from FDOT was proposed at the last Maitland City Council meeting Dec. 10, but tabled and is to be up for vote again Jan. 14. Councilman Jeff Flowers said having Maitland take ownership of the ditch is for the betterment of all the city’s water systems, as it serves as gateway for the flow of water into nearby lakes. As it stands, he said, pollutants trapped in the ditch are being carried downstream into the city’s other bodies of water.
“Nothing has happened to this ditch, and those nutrients have continued to flow into our entire Maitland lakes system for all these years … We need to take control of our destiny now and take control of this ditch,” Flowers said.
Having city control over the ditch, Williams agreed, would allow the Public Works Department to actively pursue grants to help fund the ditch’s maintenance. She said the city has previously sought grants to clean it, worth $350,000 to $400,000, but were denied on the grounds that Maitland didn’t own it or have signed consent from FDOT for the projects. Proposed construction plans to clean up the ditch, she said, have already been drawn with the total cost estimated at $750,000.
Mayor Howard Schieferdecker proposed tabling the item at the December Council meeting to give the city time to work out the best possible deal in securing the transfer of ownership. He issued concerns of taking control of the neglected ditch only to have the state turn around and demand it be cleaned and maintained to proper levels immediately. That’s a cost, he said, the city is likely not able to budget for right now.
“They have done nothing, but they can require us to do a whole bunch,” Schieferdecker said.
Public Works Director Rick Lemke said the city has worked to alter the proposed transfer agreement with FDOT to address standards for the ditch to be held to once the transfer occurs.
“We don’t want to assume responsibility for the ditch and then have the state come back and say we have to have it in pristine condition when it’s never been that way,” he said.
Upkeep of the functionality of the ditch, Lemke said, is the main concern of FDOT. And the ditch currently does its job in transferring stormwater from one place to another. The new transfer agreement, to be presented Jan. 14, he said, will address both up keep and functionality that would need to be maintained following the transfer.
Also in the works regarding the ditch, Lemke said, is an agreement with developer Dan Bellows over liability and responsibility for it once under city control, as it falls in the Gem Lakes Apartment land he is looking to develop. He said the city will draft and finalize the language of that agreement if and when the transfer is finalized.