Palm Coast swale maintenance starts new pilot program to improve speed of swale maintenance

The program began on May 1 and will hopefully improve swale functions in more areas, sooner, by spot regrading swale problem areas, Stormwater & Engineering Deputy Director Lynn Stevens said.

City staff work on a swale. Photo courtesy of the city of Palm Coast
City staff work on a swale. Photo courtesy of the city of Palm Coast
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Palm Coast's Stormwater department has launched a pilot program to help with swale regrading. 

During the City Council's May 28 budget workshop meeting, the Stormwater & Engineering Department provided an overview of its projects and needs for the next budgeting session. Stormwater & Engineering Deputy Director Lynn Stevens said the pilot program, launched on May 1, is meant to provide support for the city's regular swale maintenance crew.  

"The purpose is to improve swale functions in more areas, to be able to touch more issues, more areas, by removing just those high spots that create blockages in the swale system," Stevens said. 

Palm Coast has 1,222 miles of swales that are cleaned and dug out on a rotating basis, Stevens said. When the swale maintenance crew goes to a new rotation, organized by letter sections of Palm Coast, the crew will complete as much swale maintenance as possible in that area over a two-month period. 

The way the pilot program works is that staff will go out on site and evaluate a swale for high spots, Stevens said. Sometimes, an entire swale does not need to be fully regraded, she said.

Most high spots form where new construction meets an existing home, on either side of a culvert or near a vacant lot, she said. 

Stevens only had two full weeks of data to present to the council, since the program only launched on May 1. In that time, she said, the crew touched seven work orders, regraded 3,300 linear feet and improved approximately 6,685 feet of swales.

In comparison, the crew running full swale maintenance, in the same time period, cleared eight workers, regraded 2,941 linear feet and improved approximately 4,971 feet of swale. 

But spot regrading will not work everywhere, though, she said.

"Some swales around the city will still require the full swale run to be regraded," Stevens said.

In an interview with the Observer in January, Stevens said Palm Coast had 950 outstanding swale maintenance requests from residents.

At the May 28 meeting, Stevens told the council that in fiscal year 2023, the stormwater department had 2,193 new cases opened on Palm Coast Connect while the department resolved 1,676 cases. The remaining 748 outstanding cases are in line to be reviewed, she said. 

These cases cases do not include the infill lot cases, which are still open and being reviewed as well, she said.

Most, but not all, of the cases submitted to the stormwater department are about swale maintenance, Stevens said. What most people don't realize, she said, is that the swale system is actually at the bottom of the list as far as how the city's stormwater system runs. To run efficiently, the city canals must be in working order first, then its ditches and, lastly, the swales. 

"The first thing the resident thinks about is the swale in the front yard," she said of the stormwater system. "The reality is that our system is massive, and the major components of the stormwater system are elements that are downstream of the swales

Part of the struggle the department has is addressing the increasing number of Palm Coast Connect complaints while maintaining its swale maintenance rotations, she said.

Going into the fiscal year 2025 budget session, Stevens said, as far as the swale maintenance program goes, the department was requesting a second ditch crew in the fiscal year 2025 budget. 

A second culvert crew, she said, could also be added before the beginning of fiscal year 2025 in September if the council agreed to use a loan approved in the 2024 budget to purchase another vacuum truck instead of the pontoon excavator it was slated for. Then the city would only need to hire one additional person to help run the machine.

The council agreed to the change. Mayor David Alfin thanked the department for its work.

"You're responding to an issue of critical importance," he said.


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