By Dan Moffett
South Palm Beach Mayor Bonnie Fischer says she met with county environmental officials in March and left convinced they are committed to going ahead with the town’s controversial beach stabilization project.
“The county is definitely moving forward,” Fischer said. “There’s been too much money spent by the county not to take it to fruition.”
Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management officials are working to secure the state permits necessary to begin construction of the project — a $5 million plan, 12 years in the making, to install a network of seven concrete groins along the beaches from the northern boundary of South Palm Beach to the southern edge of Lantana Municipal Beach.
The plan faces fierce opposition.
Manalapan and the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa have threatened legal action, claiming the groins would disrupt the natural flow of sand and hurt their beaches.
Opposition within South Palm Beach has been led by the Concordia East condominium group. The condo association has refused to grant the town and county an easement, and without it workers can’t access the beach for groin installation. Concordia homeowners worry about liability issues and potentially opening their beachfront to public access.
In February, Fischer and other Town Council members softened their support for the project, saying they would be open to other solutions — perhaps a more traditional beach renourishment plan. The mayor says she wants to discuss alternatives with the town’s neighbors.
“We’re trying desperately to get a meeting with Manalapan and Lantana to see their take and keep options open,” she said. “We also want to have a meeting with Concordia East about their easement.”
Vice Mayor Robert Gottlieb believes negotiation is in the best interest of all parties.
“We need to work together, neighbor with neighbor, to solve our mutual problems — that includes Manalapan, Lantana, ourselves and Palm Beach,” Gottlieb said. “We need to get something that doesn’t hurt any community and helps all the folks involved, especially the public beach in Lantana.”
Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan thinks the county is doing the right thing by continuing to seek permits for the groins.
“Once we get the permits in place, then we can change what we want to do,” she said. “Then we’d have the options. It doesn’t mean that we have to go with the groins. We can go with restoration and other options.”
After years of watching their beach drift away, South Palm residents likely still have months of waiting ahead before they find out whether government can come up with something to slow the erosion.
“We just have to wait and see,” Fischer said.
In other business,
• Town Manager Mo Thornton says the town is switching to a different AT&T phone system to improve communications at Town Hall. She said the new phones cost “almost exactly the same” as those employees currently use and, frankly, hate.
“It’s almost impossible to carry out the town’s business on the telephone,” Thornton said, “because the service is so bad.”
• The council unanimously approved moving its meetings from the fourth Tuesday of each month to the second Tuesday. The change resolves a scheduling conflict for Town Attorney Glen Torcivia. The council’s new meeting schedule will begin at 7 p.m. May 8.