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Winter Garden bans trucks on Marsh Road; won’t enforce

Instant Photo Poster
Norine Dworkin

Founding Editor

Sunday, April 11, 2021


Norine Dworkin/VoxPopuli

East-bound and west-bound sand-haulers at the roundabout outside of Waterside and Sanctuary at Twin Waters communities on Marsh Road in Winter Garden at 6:30 a.m. in January 2021.

Winter Garden’s city commissioners voted unanimously April 8 to ban through-traffic of heavy trucks traveling on the portion of Marsh Road that runs by three residential communities in west Winter Garden. But, like Solomon splitting the proverbial baby, they said the ban would not be immediately enforced.

The commission hedged when a parade of Clermont residents and sand mine managers protested against the ban, pleading with commissioners to give the representatives from the trucking and sand mine industries along with officials from Lake County and Clermont where the sand mines are located, more time to find solutions to share the road. The group has been negotiating for a month.

A vote on the truck ban, Ordinance 21-11, had been tabled twice in March to allow stakeholders to work out a compromise; a final vote was expected at the April 8 meeting.

Initially, it appeared that it was going to be a straight nay vote.

City Manager Mike Bollhoefer emphasized that all of the stakeholders had worked hard to reduce the number of trucks on the road and their speeds, but the situation remained untenable. His recommendation, he told commissioners, was to ban the heavy trucks. Local trucks making deliveries or working on construction sites off Marsh Road would continue to have access.

“There are so many different companies bringing in trucks, it’s probably beyond the control of anyone to be able to get the trucks down to a speed and number that we feel is safe for the community and that reduces the impact on the roads,” Bollhoefer said. “It would be staff’s recommendation to approve this ordinance.”

Commissioners typically follow Bollhoefer’s lead. But, after hearing forceful pleas from Clermont residents, Lake County officials and representatives of Titan America and the Center Sand Mine to delay, their stance softened. District 4 Commissioner Colin Sharman floated the idea to pass the ordinance but not enforce it.

“I constantly complain about the traffic on Hartwood Marsh Road [which is just called Marsh Road in Winter Garden],” said Vincent Nieman, a Clermont resident, said during the public comment section.

“I’m just asking, pleading with you to table this just to give them a little more time. The reason I’m asking is, you have a major safety issue? We have the same. You have damage to your roads? We have the same. But, by not delaying this, you’re going to double our pain. There are 11 communities, over 13,000 homes, that will be affected by this.”

While many other Clermont residents pleaded similarly, surprisingly only two Winter Garden residents turned out to speak for the ban when they had been out in force at prior meetings. One such resident, Gabriella Pierami, a Marsh Road resident, was incensed at the thought of another delay.

“The residents of Clermont are going to be hurt by this? How about us, the residents of Winter Garden?,” she said by phone. “We’ve been suffering with this for months and months. Till now, they didn’t say anything about it. But now that we’re going to try to mend it, they come up with ‘We’re trying to hurt them?’ We are being hurt. I’m sorry. This is unbelievable. This has to go through. The city of Winter Garden has to do something to defend the residents. This is extremely frustrating.”

Jennifer Rafferty, general counsel for Titan America Florida, parent company of the Center Sand Mine, said the company had already instituted a 50-percent reduction of trucks on Marsh Road, implemented a “circuitous route,” whereby drivers only use Marsh Road on one leg of their trip, and “emphasized and reemphasized” speed controls with their truckers. She added that she did not believe that they were at an impasse and wanted to continue to work with Winter Garden officials.

Brian Bleakney, the Center Sand Mine plant manager, said he believed the mine was being "unfairly blamed” for all of the trucks on Marsh Road.

“One of the observations we’ve made in the traffic ‘noise and speed’ surveys over the last couple of weeks is that a lot of traffic is happening prior to 7 a.m.,” he said. “These trucks are not from the sand mine or the borrow pit (Center Sand Mine subcontractor). They’re going into the subdivisions where homes are being constructed. It’s because of these vehicles that we feel we’re unfairly being blamed for the traffic that residents are seeing and hearing.”

As the discussion neared the hour mark, it became clear that the commissioners were conflicted and struggling to find a way to satisfy residents of both Clermont and Winter Garden.

“This is a difficult decision,” admitted Commissioner Mark Maciel who represents District 3.

That’s when Sharman, who represents the Marsh Road residents, offered a way to appease both cities. “Could we move forward tonight and not enforce it and let them find some solutions?” he asked.

The commissioners unanimously rallied around Sharman’s idea. He made a motion to pass the ordinance but to also give the city manager the authority to decide when to implement it. District 2 Commissioner Ron Mueller seconded it.

By the end of the discussion, even Bollhoefer, the city manager, welcomed the opportunity to continue to seek alternative solutions. He said he would pursue getting the myriad local trucking companies going to and from the construction sites in the Marsh Road subdivisions to comply with noise and speed restrictions while pushing Titan America and the Center Sand Mine to implement and maintain “solid, concrete changes and improvements that happen right away.” Bollhoefer also said he would check in with the Marsh Road residents to ensure they were seeing a difference in terms of less noise and fewer, slower trucks on the road.

Bollhoefer told VoxPopuli that one new idea he was already considering was to keep construction vehicles headed for the Marsh Road subdivisions off the road until 6:50 a.m. since there’s already a prohibition against construction before 7 a.m.

“We’ll look at things we haven’t addressed and see if that’s a way to bring those numbers down,” Bollhoefer said. “Shame on us that we thought if we just focused on the big players we’d get this all done.”

But it seems the effort to make two cities happy made no one happy.

“The city of Winter Garden has a responsibility to take care of their residents just like I have a responsibility to take care of my residents,” Clermont Mayor Tim Murray said, standing in the Winter Garden City Hall lobby immediately after the vote. “If this is what they feel is best for their residents, so be it. We can stop the trucks, but that’s not really going to solve the problem. I will support them in every way I can in their solution and look for other ways to help my residents.”

“My husband and I are confused about the commissioners’ decision to adopt the ordinance that bans dump trucks along Marsh Road, but not to enforce it. We do not understand the logic behind the decision,”  Marsh Road residents Glen Harris and Debra Young said by email. 

“Our real concern is that if we do not enforce the ordinance, we will be right back where we started," they continued. "Residents who live in developments along Marsh Road will be competing to travel the road overrun with dump trucks. And residents whose homes line Marsh Road will have to deal with constant noise levels that the Environmental Protection Agency has deemed as “noise pollution” and unsafe, especially for young children.”

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