By Dan Moffett
South Palm Beach thought its long-awaited beach stabilization project was finally about to get started when Palm Beach County commissioners voted early last month to accept the town’s easements and begin permitting.
Then came some sobering news from a neighbor to the south.
Manalapan Mayor Keith Waters said his town is committed to doing whatever it takes to see that the project never gets off the ground.
“We’re going to fight this project tooth and nail,” Waters told his Town Commission. “We’re going to vehemently fight it and bring to bear whatever we need to bring to bear.”
Waters said he wants to set aside money in the town’s budget to cover the cost of a possible legal battle.
The mayor thinks the seven concrete groins the county and South Palm Beach plan to install will steal sand that otherwise flows south and nourishes Manalapan’s beaches.
“This is going to be seriously damaging to our community,” Waters said. “I don’t know anyone in Manalapan who supports that project.”
South Palm Beach officials have declined public comment on the remarks, but privately say they feel blindsided. The project has been planned for more than a decade and they say no Manalapan official has complained to them directly.
Representatives from the county and South Palm Beach say they’re committed to moving forward.
“Our next goal is to submit a comprehensive Request for Additional Information response to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection,” said Kimberly Miranda, the county’s project manager. “It is our intention to submit the response to DEP over the summer.”
On June 6, county commissioners approved 14 easements from property owners along the town’s beach, paving the way for permitting. The Concordia East condominium and the town of Lantana, which owns the municipal beach, are still negotiating easements with county attorneys.
Project managers hoped to have construction started by November, but have pushed the target date back to November 2018. The project should take about four months.
Waters points to the dwindling shoreline in Hillsboro Beach in Broward County as evidence of the damage groins can do. Hillsboro Beach has accused northern Broward County neighbor Deerfield Beach of stealing sand for decades because of a system of 56 groins installed in the 1960s. In April, Hillsboro Beach filed suit against Deerfield Beach, seeking to recover millions in damages.
Manalapan’s opposition to the project surfaced in July 2016 when then-Mayor David Cheifetz wrote a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers. Cheifetz criticized the corps’ 500-page Environmental Impact Statement for not taking into account the damage the groins might cause to “downdrift” beaches south of the project that benefit from the natural sand flow.
“The town is very concerned regarding the effects of the coastal armoring structures,” Cheifetz told the corps. “The EIS states that the groins will facilitate stabilization by disrupting a portion of the sand flowing south along the beach and encourage sediment deposition on the updrift side of the structure.”
The corps also received a complaint from the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, which withdrew its support for the project that summer after hiring an engineering firm to study the plan.
Eau President Eva Hill wrote: “The project will have a devastating impact on our beach and the operations of our resort.”
Cost of the $5 million project is shared among governments, with the town paying about 20 percent, the county 30 percent through tourism taxes, and the state and federal governments covering about 50 percent.
Manalapan and South Palm Beach have enjoyed a productive working relationship in the past, collaborating on police and traffic issues, as well as sharing a fire-rescue contract with the county.
“We have a great neighbor to the north,” Waters said. “But we can’t allow this project to move forward.”
In other business:
• The South Palm Beach council scheduled its first budget meeting for the 2016-17 fiscal year for 1 p.m. on July 11.
Mayor Bonnie Fischer said one of the top priorities for council members is deciding a plan for the Town Hall, which needs either a major renovation or a complete rebuilding.
Either choice will have a significant impact on the town’s budget, she said. Property values in South Palm Beach are up about 6.5 percent, according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office, giving the town increased tax revenues to help pay for the Town Hall improvements.
• Town Manager Bob Vitas told the South Palm Beach Town Council on June 27 that groundbreaking will be at 10:45 a.m. July 12 for the 3550 project on the former site of the old Hawaiian Inn hotel.
Paragon Acquisition Group and Manhattan-based DDG are building a 30-unit luxury condominium. Construction for the $35 million project will take about 18 months.