Attack of the signs: Basswood bombarded

When the Okeechobee Board of County Commissioners announced plans to bring sidewalks to the neighborhood in Basswood, the news was met with a unanimously positive reaction. Commissioner Bryant Culpepper, who represents the district in which Basswood is located, had championed the project after witnessing kids trudging along in the high grass to their bus stop.

But a few short months after construction on the sidewalks began, Commissioner Culpepper started to receive calls to his office with a very specific complaint regarding signs.

There were just way too many signs.

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
Okeechobee County Commissioner Bryant Culpepper says the first he learned of the number of crosswalk signs being installed in Basswood was when he started receiving calls from residents in the area. Currently, there are 35 crosswalk signs on a 1-mile section of Northwest 36th Street.

On nearly every road, and at every intersection, there were crosswalk signs. And not only crosswalk signs, but signs warning of upcoming crosswalk signs. It was a veritable sign-apocalypse.

Basswood residents not only called their local officials but posted pictures on their social media of the mind-boggling number of crosswalk signs being installed. The pictures were posted with captions like “No words,” “This can’t be real” and “Why?”

After the complaints came pouring in, County Administrator Robbie Chartier and Deputy County Administrator Louis Johnson went to Basswood to see for themselves just what was going on. Commissioner Culpepper reported that the administrators described the amount of signage they saw as “beyond ridiculous.”

Workers have already removed the “crosswalk ahead” signs, and there are may be plans to remove more once county administrators meet with engineers to determine which crosswalk signs legally need to be there. Deputy Administrator Louis Johnson says that he believes that as long as there is a crosswalk there needs to be a crosswalk sign.

“What they are working on now is having one crosswalk ahead sign when you turn into Basswood from the west going east and one sign turning into Whispering Pines from the east going to the west,” explained Commissioner Culpepper. “None of the board members had any knowledge of these signs going up. I’m as mad as they are, believe me, because it embarrasses me. We didn’t ask for crosswalks at every single street; all we wanted to address were the bus stops.”

It’s unclear whether the number of signs installed was the result of a miscommunication with the board and engineers working on the project. The board approved the plans to build the sidewalks, but Commissioner Culpepper says he didn’t personally see the blueprints.

Currently, there are still about 35 crosswalk signs on a 1-mile section of Northwest 36th Street. County administrators estimate that each sign costs around $150. Meaning there is about $5,250 worth of crosswalk signs installed in Basswood, not counting the crosswalk ahead signs the county has already removed.

Okeechobee County applied for a grant from the State of Florida which paid 50% of the costs of the sidewalks, while the county covered the other 50%.

“We can still use those signs around the county, so it’s not completely wasted money,” said Commissioner Culpepper. “And no one is being taxed individually that whole amount. It’s passed over the taxpayers in the county, so it’s a relatively small amount money for each taxpayer. We screwed up. Listen, that’s life. I’m not perfect. My dad had an old saying that I said to my wife the other day, and that was ‘Never let a good deed go unpunished.’”

Eventually, the county would like to also bring sidewalks to Oak Lake Estates and the neighborhood around Everglades Elementary. When it does, officials may take some solace in the fact that they probably won’t have to order more crosswalk signs for those upcoming projects.

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