Issue of road repairs generates sharp exchanges


Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 8:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 8:25 p.m.

The more heated debates during Tuesday's Alachua County Commission meeting centered on issues that commissioners didn't vote on rather than those they did.

The commission quickly and quietly approved the addition of several properties, including a San Felasco Hammock-Turkey Creek Hammock tract, to an Alachua County Forever registry of protected public places in a 4-1 vote, with Susan Baird in dissent.

Lands listed on the registry can't be sold and their land uses can't be changed without voter approval by referendum.

Commissioners also swiftly accepted Jim and Jerry Painter's withdrawal of their request for a study of the Melrose Rural Cluster, one of 13 such rural population centers in the unincorporated county.

The study could have prompted a boundary change that would include their land in the cluster and allow them to build additional houses in a planned subdivision there, but the Painters wanted more time to consider their options.

But during a public comment period, local resident Bruce Nelson upset Commissioner MIke Byerly by saying Byerly had referred to the county's road repair needs, which comprise a countywide backlog of about $550 million, as "greatly exaggerated."

"And that's a nice way of saying 'lies,'" Nelson said in a later interview. "Either the facts are right or the facts are wrong."

Byerly called Nelson's statement that Byerly had said county staff were dishonest in their road repair estimates "grossly dishonest" in itself. Byerly said he had been referring not to county staff but to some citizens at meetings who he said had exaggerated the county's road needs.

Unlike Byerly, who is running for re-election this year, Nelson supports the "Fix Our Roads" referendum that would fund road repairs in an effort to diminish the backlog. He said Byerly's opposition to the initiative is politically motivated.

In a later interview, Byerly said he was concerned by the cost increase between a 2000 and 2005 Public Works Department report regarding pavement management.

In 2000, the department concluded it would cost an added $2.25 million per year over 20 years, while a 2005 report stated it would cost an extra $26 million per year for 15 years, according to a report by Public Works Director Richard Hedrick.

The greatest cause of the increase was likely a strategy switch from recommending some cheaper, short-term solutions in 2000 to excluding such options in 2005.

In a later interview, Byerly questioned whether the county can afford the pricier long-term methods right now.

Residents can learn more about the referendum at a community-wide meeting Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the Santa Fe High School Auditorium at 16213 NW U.S. Highway 441 in Alachua.

Meantime, the commission reaffirmed a previous decision Tuesday not to fund mosquito spraying in specific county zones despite the presence of West Nile virus.

While there are fewer mosquito complaints from residents now than there were after Tropical Storm Debby, the mosquitos are more dangerous, said Alachua County Health Department administrator Paul Myers.

Without spraying, the mosquito population will be sustained at least until the county's first hard freeze.

Commissioner Mike Byerly said spraying was an "expensive placebo" and considered increasing public education a more effective option.

Direct mail about the virus was suggested, which could cost about $20,000 to send to all county households, Communications Coordinator Mark Sexton said. Commissioners considered excluding Gainesville residents since the city sprays for mosquitoes.

Byerly said the commission should approve mail pieces first, but Commissioner Paula DeLaney was concerned about delaying action further. Ultimately, the county took no action.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gvillesun.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/morganwatkins26.

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