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Should Palm Coast’s Saltwater Residents Pay Special Tax for Dredging? Survey Will Ask.

Palm Coast’s saltwater canals may need dredging in places, but to what extent and at what cost is not yet clear.

Posted on April 15, 2024

The Palm Coast City Council has placed the city’s 26 miles of saltwater canals on its list of priorities for next year. But don’t confuse that just yet with dredging the canals. The city doesn’t yet know what must be dredged and at what cost except in the most general terms, and doesn’t know how to pay for it all.

With that in mind, Palm Coast government will soon be asking you: Do you live on a saltwater canal? Do you think dredging the canals is necessary? Do you think a special assessment (or tax) should be imposed on those living on a canal? Plus a couple of other questions.

The survey questions themselves raised questions among council members during a workshop on Tuesday, shedding further light on where the council members stand regarding dredging and its most vexing question: who should pay for it, and should those living on canals be made responsible, or more responsible, for that cost than those elsewhere.

Obviously, every council member would prefer that money from other sources–the state, the federal government–cover the cost. But it’s a very substantial if still vague cost, ranging between $20 million and $58 million. If residents are to pay for some or any of it, Council member Ed Danko is adamant that it should be a shared responsibility across the city. He appears to have Council member Cathy Heighter’s support. But the three other council members, including Mayor David Alfin, are not prepared to decide that just yet.

Canals 2024 Update 

It’s not just the cost, Alfin says.

None of the survey questions “address the ongoing issue of private property, sea walls that are not up to snuff,” Alfin said, “nor does it address vacant lots that do not have sea walls at all, nor does it address liabilities with regard to private property, meaning docks and piers, that could be negatively affected through a dredging process. So there’s a whole lot more, which probably makes that number look small.” That number being the cost estimate of dredging.

Grants may not be as ready a source of revenue as council members hope. “A lot of these grants are actually more tied to communities that are disadvantaged, or to improvements to water quality, or coastal rehabilitation,” Stormwater Engineer Carmelo Morales said, making Palm Coast “a little bit too good to qualify for some of these. That’s a little ironic, because we’re identifying it as potentially needing dredging. But there are some opportunities out there, but it’s challenging. It’s not a ton of them.”

To Alfin, the more immediate question today was whether the canal issue should be a council priority for the coming year or not, he said.

There was no doubt that the council wanted it a priority. The plan will be “developing a maintenance plan for the saltwater channels,” in Acting City Manager Lauren Johnston’s words.

The council would decide during the coming goal-setting process (or Strategic Action Plan” process) at that point what to spend, if anything, and how. “The arithmetic is not available to calculate it” just yet, Alfin said, though the council could also devise options, among them–possibly–defining what the special assessment boundaries would be.

But that’s still a very uncertain option, with council members like Danko and Alfin reluctant to leave the impression that a special assessment is in the works.

Pontieri, too, wanted to have certain markers on whatever happens next: She doesn’t want to commit to any dredging without “knowing exactly what the overall cost is going to be,” she said. The most immediate preliminary phase will cost $46,000, but further phases get more expensive fast: Phases 3 and 4 another $400,000, and phase 5, the actual dredging, would cost anywhere from $20 million to $58 million at today’s estimates.

“Spot dredging,” or limiting the dredging to specific areas, is more likely, Danko said in light of the city consultant’s findings, presented last August.

The mayor isn’t convinced. “I had an education on that recently,” he said, “it’s not nearly what you think. So just to get to that point where you can spot dredge is huge money,” Alfin said.

Some of the survey questions drew objections, but were not eliminated. Danko wasn’t comfortable with the first question: “Do you live on a saltwater canal or not.”

“I’m not quite sure what that has to do with our responsibilities to maintain those canals,” he said. “This is not a class warfare item, in my view. I’m not quite sure what this accomplishes, to be honest with you. It’s like, do you live on a golf course? Most people don’t. To me, it’s kind of like: we still have a responsibility towards our golf course. I don’t live on that road, but we still have a responsibility to that road.”

To Pontieri, who doesn’t want to “create this divide of those who live on a canal versus those who don’t live on a canal,” the question is not so much to determine how many people do or do not live on canals, but how those who do respond differently than those who don’t. That’s why she proposed the question about a special assessment.

Looking at the potential costs, Pontieri said the council has to start considering “whether or not a special assessment for people living on the canals is what needs to occur. I’m not saying whether I’m in favor of it or not in favor of it, I need to see more information and really consider it. But I also think that it’s something that should be asked of our residents, because there could be a lot of residents that live on the canals that say, Hey, I don’t mind being assessed just dredge my canal.” If there is “a very large outcry for no,” Pontierti said, that should inform the council’s steps further on, especially if the dredging has to be funded the way the city’s storwmater system is funded (with a monthly fee on utility bills).

Mayor David Alfin did not think the question Pontieri wanted to ask would be relevant, though he had no objection to adding it.

Residents will not get that survey until late spring or early summer. There’s a community survey among the public now and until May 10. Johnston doesn’t want the two to overlap.

Celia Pugliesi, a business owner and frequent speaker at council meetings, has lived on a property along a main saltwater canal since 1991. “the city council needs to learn that the sea walls are not the responsibility of the city at all,” she said. “Forget about the sea walls. Don’t even mention the sea walls here.” She said the main canals don’t need dredging as “side canals” may. She also noted that the canals drain the entirety of the city, so she would oppose “any special assessment” singling out canal property owners.

The comment prompted Pontieri to request for a future meeting a more precise analysis of the share of drainage that the saltwater canals account for, as that would determine whether the dredging is looked at as a stormwater project or as simply a dredging project.

“It’s not the whole city, by the way,” Morales, the stormwater engineer, said.


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