By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Life-long big city residents may not realize that some of their rural neighbors still live on dirt roads, and that they are expected to maintain those roads without any help from local or state government.
One example: Ranchette Road in Volusia County, Florida, roughly 6 miles west of New Smyrna Beach.
According to a report in the Daytona Beach News Journal, the dirt road that leads south from State Route 44 has been in existence since the 1970s. Over the years, a handful of homeonwers has grown to 60 households. Their homes are located on a dozen side roads that rely on Ranchette Road to connect them with Highway 44.
Residents who live on or near Ranchette Road are working people or elderly retirees. They survive on limited incomes, and have never been able to afford to pave their private road. For the past 40 or so years, some of the owners have donates a little money at a time, just to bring in some dirt and reclaimed asphalt from road reconstruction sites. That kind of patchwork maintenance has not endured Central Florida’s rainy seasons and two recent Hurricanes (Matthew in 2016, and Irma in 2017).
Just take a look at the News-Journal video below, to see why local officials have designated the road as impassable.
Erosion, floods isolate Volusia residents of private roads
By Casmira Harrison, Daytona Beach News-Journal
Posted Oct 11, 2017 at 6:41 PM
Updated at 12:12 PM
NEW SMYRNA BEACH — Before dawn, Bonnie King hauls children in her 4-wheel-drive truck to the bus stop at the other end of Ranchette Road, a 2.5-mile private dirt lane that’s eroded so as it’s impassable to cars.
Plunging through puddles, King can’t tell how much of the sand beneath the waterline has washed away since the day before. Despite taking the road slow, water can soak the engines of even large SUVs as mud washes over their hoods.
“It’s a treacherous drive,” King said to members of the Volusia County Council last week. “It’s white-knuckle the whole way.”
And it’s causing the 60 families who live off Ranchette Road — about six miles west of the New Smyrna Beach city limits — to rely upon one another after Hurricane Irma. Those with 4-by-4s escort their elderly neighbors to doctors’ appointments and grocery stores, driving them through 10-foot wide quagmires and hoping not to get stuck or flood an engine.
The road has been swamped since Hurricane Irma last month. Neighbors say they’ve exhausted funds patching the road. While they say they’ve reached out to the federal government and the county for help, since it’s a private road, responsibility lies with the homeowners, and leaders say that complicates a remedy. According to state law, the county can use public funds to fix private roads during a state of emergency, but county leaders say they are still looking into whether that’s something they should do.
The only way the county will take over the road is if the residents bring it up to county standards,” said Volusia County Councilwoman Deb Denys, who represents the district covering Ranchette Road. “It may be uncomfortable, but that’s how it’s always been.”
But Denys said the county will be at the table to discuss the trouble. She said department heads from Public Works and Storm Water Management are expected to meet with area residents later this week, but she said she is unsure when. She’s also unsure of what the county could do, but that some have recommended creating a homeowners association, to help make donations to road repairs mandatory. Residents say not everyone with property donates to help keep the road up.
Read more: (See video of Ranchette Road)
Did you notice Volusia County’s knee-jerk response to a request for help?
Just create a homeowners association and collect mandatory contributions for road repair.
Is the County Commissioner kidding? If a few dozen households have been unable to come up with the money to maintain, rebuild, or improve Ranchette Road since at least 1997, what makes Denys think that a small group of neighbors will be willing to serve on an HOA board that would then be legally responsible for collection of mandatory assessments?
It’s simply unrealistic.
As for Volusia County improving the road and billing only a few dozen homeowners that rely on Ranchette Road for access to work, school, medical care, and more, is that reasonable and fair? If Ranchette Road were to be paved, or made into a gravel road, wouldn’t other County residents use the road, too? Could the cost be shared by a larger group of taxpayers?
Might it be possible to abandon low-lying portions of Ranchette Road and reroute residents to a nearby public access road instead? Would homeowners that would have to pay for improving Ranchette Road qualify for additional property tax exemptions to help offset the additional tax burden?
Could the County help to relocate residents with inaccessible homes, especially if they own moblie homes?
It’s time for some outside-the-box thinking to create workable solutions for people who clearly need assistance.