By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
Some Port Orange residents, represented by Derek LaMontagne, are seeking answers from Volusia County concerning the Williamson Road extension project and have asked the city of Port Orange to help set up a dialogue.
The Sweetwater Coalition is a group of citizens who are concerned the proposed extension of Williamson Road, from where it ends at Airport Road to its proposed intersection with Pioneer Trail, is going to negatively impact the wetlands and quality of water of Spruce Creek.
Mr. LaMontagne presented several items to the developer, Pioneer Community Development District, about its 60 percent complete plan that concern Sweetwater Coalition members. He also claims the acreage impacted does not match the numbers the district has provided in its plan. In his presentation, he stated the city donated 12.5 acres of wetland credits to the project in October 2012. In the district's plan cross-section maps the total acres of affected wetlands shown equals 15.9 acres. The total wetlands on-site according to the U.S. Corps of Engineers permit is 18.06 acres and the district's wetlands permit request states 6.92 acres will be affected. The coalition wants clarification on the differences in the acreage affected.
Repeated attempts on the part of Mr. LaMontagne and the coalition have gone unanswered by the district or were inadequately answered by Volusia County, according to Mr. LaMontagne.
The coalition had three goals in bringing their concerns before the council; first, for the city to help open a dialogue with the county to adequately answer their questions; second, for the city to help find the answers to their questions concerning the cost and mitigation of the road; and third, to inform the council of details on the project they might not be aware of.
Mr. LaMontagne summarized the current project according to district's plan, pointing out the route for the new road is now taking it farther east to hug Interstate 95, which the district says will be less of an impact to the wetlands. The new design, however, increases the area of wetlands to the west of the road it plans to develop, which appears on the plan map to encompass nearly all of the wetland area. Mr. LaMontagne feels this would increase the impact rather than decrease it.
He also informed the council the entire area was part of the Spruce Creek watershed with the area affected being the last significant wetland supplying Spruce Creek. Anything that goes into that area would eventually affect Spruce Creek, which has already been designated an impaired waterway in an environmental study. "Normally there is a BMAP created when one of these surveys is conducted that maps out the best way to improve a watershed," said Mr. LaMontagne. "There has not been any BMAP done and we would like this council to ensure that one is completed before construction begins."
Mr. LaMontagne also pointed out there had not been any tree survey done and the plan did not show any trees being planted in the proposed extra wide sod median. "A lot of the impact to the wetlands could be reduced if they just shrink the size of the road," Mr. LaMontagne said. "It appears they decided to make it double lanes in both directions because they over estimated the population of Port Orange in their survey."
He added the proposed sidewalk and bike trail also increased the width of the road and therefore its impact on the wetlands.
The Sweetwater Coalition presented the city with the following suggestions concerning the project: Reduce the road to two lanes, shrink or remove the extra-wide 22 foot median, leave the median in its original condition with its native trees, but if that can't be possible, then plant trees and not keep it a sod median as proposed. The coalition also suggests having the sidewalk meander around shade trees to add scenic charm and decrease the overall road width from 130 feet to the standard size of 100 feet, and to demand tree mitigation for more types of trees.
The final request is for the city and county not to build the road at all and save the taxpayers the estimated $10 million the district expects it will cost to develop.
The council took a few minutes to discuss the information presented and identified the current plan by the district is to finish the design plan and all required studies by this fall and begin construction and have the project completed by June 2014.
The council then asked if he had given this presentation to the County Council and Mr. LaMontagne answered he had not. "I did not because first they said they had no tree surveys and second they said, 'It's being built within county standards.'"
Mr. LaMontagne told the City Council this was not an acceptable answer. "We don't want it to be just standard. We want it to be outstanding and beneficial to the waterways. Spruce Creek means a lot to me," he said. "I graduated from Spruce Creek High School. We want it to be aesthetically pleasing and to have the least impact on the wetlands as possible."
The council suggested it would be in the coalition's best interest and would help their cause best if they gave the same presentation to Volusia County. They also suggested presenting the information to Port Orange's Environmental Board, feeling that would be the best department to help them with their requests. Mr. LaMontagne said he would follow both suggestions.