By Tim O’Meilia
It’s the old “good news/bad news” cliché.
The good news is that the elusive environmental impact study for the perhaps illusory plan to save South Palm Beach’s eroding beach and maintain Lantana’s seawall is being revived.
The bad news is that the project has been removed from the list of beach projects to be included in the new inlet-to-inlet beach management plan being written by state, county and municipal officials to guide future work.
The not-so-bad-after-all news is that the project likely will be placed back on the list once engineers and biologists decide the newest approach to save South Palm Beach condos from falling into the sea.
“We’re going ahead with the environmental impact study with the idea that there will be no structures,” meaning breakwaters or groins, said Dan Bates, deputy director of Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resource Management.
The original 1.3-mile project from southern Palm Beach to Manalapan included a series of off-shore concrete breakwaters and several groins, but the plan stalled after county commissioners rejected a similar plan for Singer Island. Commissioners were concerned about the effects on sea turtle nesting and sea grasses.
South Palm Beach Town Manager Rex Taylor was pleased that the environmental study had been revived, although he blamed county commissioners for the delay.
In June, county commissioners made clear that the environmental study should emphasize solutions that do not include hard structures. The difficulty is that extensive hardbottom off the South Palm Beach shoreline makes a simple sand restoration project nearly impossible to be permitted.
Scientists concluded that sand renourishment would result in the hardbottom being covered, destroying the habitat of near-shore marine life. Bates said a scaled-back sand restoration project may be possible, depending on the results of the environmental study.
However, the county already has indicated the area would not be eligible for any more sand dune restoration because the sand is too quickly washed away in the next storm.
The study is being combined with a similar study of Reach 8 in Palm Beach, from the Lake Worth beach to the northern boundary of South Palm Beach. A restoration project there had been previously denied because of similar environmental concerns.
The regional plan would allow a regional approach to beach management resulting in more effective projects and quicker state approvals for individual projects. The proposed plan includes seven projects that have been approved or will be renewed between the Lake Worth and Boynton inlets.
“We can’t include a project that the Corps of Engineers may not approve,” said Danielle Fondren, director of the state Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, referring to the South Palm Beach and Reach 8 projects.
A first draft of the regional plan will be considered at a Sept. 18 meeting in Palm Beach. State organizers hope five municipalities — including Lantana, South Palm Beach and Manalapan — will sign on, as well as Palm Beach County, the primary source of money.
Included is an annual inlet-to-inlet shoreline monitoring program that would be paid for by all five towns, even if they have no projects imminent. Each would be assessed based on its amount of shoreline: a half mile (3.2 percent) for South Palm Beach, 0.2 miles (1.3 percent) for Lantana and 2.7 miles (17.2 percent) for Manalapan.
The town of Palm Beach would pay more than 75 percent of the cost. The annual cost has not been determined.
Lantana Town Manager Deborah Manzo said that signing the agreement will be the council’s decision. She urged that the agreement have an endpoint, such as five years, so partners could decide whether to continue.
By Tim O’Meilia