By Tim O’Meilia

Four southern Palm Beach County coastal towns are part of the 23 percent. 

That is, beaches in South Palm Beach, Manalapan and Lantana won’t benefit in the near future from an inlet-to-inlet beach management plan now being assembled by state, county and local officials. But they’ll be asked to pay a 23 percent share of the cost of annual monitoring of the entire 15.7 miles of shoreline between the Lake Worth and Boynton inlets, based on the length of each town’s beachfront. The town of Palm Beach will pay the rest. 

“We don’t have a pending project, so how do you convince people we should be a part of it?” said South Palm Beach Councilwoman Bonnie Fischer. “It’s a hard sell.”

An environmental impact study now under way may yield a new approach to saving the eroding beaches south of the Lake Worth pier to Lantana’s public beach, but only projects already designed are being included in the regional plan now. A South Palm Beach-Lantana project could be added later. 

Fischer, representatives of the other two towns and Palm Beach County officials agreed to meet soon to discuss apportioning the costs. An estimate won’t be available until next month. They all attended the monthly meeting of the group putting together the regional plan Sept. 18 in Palm Beach.

“Funding is going to be the question,” said Lantana Town Manager Deborah Manzo.  Manalapan Building Official Bob Donovan agreed. Lake Worth has yet to send a representative to any meeting. 

“We want the entire (region) to have a monitoring commitment,” said Danielle Fondren, chief of the state’s Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, which is guiding the writing of the plan. “It should not cost more than what people are currently paying.”

None of the three towns is paying for monitoring now, although South Palm Beach expects to continue paying 20 percent of the cost of the environmental impact study.

The rationale for developing a regional plan is to consider inlet-to-inlet as a whole and develop an overall approach, thus streamlining state permitting for individual projects within the region and making them more effective. 

That doesn’t guarantee quicker examination by federal agencies that also issue permits for beach restoration projects. 

It’s a pilot program for the state Department of Environmental Protection. If it succeeds, the area from the Boynton Inlet to the Boca Inlet could next see a regional approach. Ocean Ridge beaches are included in the region. 

Despite lacking a project in the regional plan, the towns will be asked by DEP to sign a “letter of participation,” indicating that they will continue to help write the plan. That does not commit them to signing the plan when it is completed, perhaps by the end of the year, Fondren said.

A 1.3-mile project from southern Palm Beach to Manalapan was killed by county commissioners earlier this year. But the commission revived the idea in June, so long as the new plan does not include a series of offshore concrete breakwaters and several groins from the original plan. 

Commissioners were concerned about the effect of such structures on sea turtle nesting and sea grasses.

County officials already have said they will not perform any more dune restoration in South Palm Beach because it is ineffective. In many areas, the condominiums sit atop the natural dune. The environmental impact study is being done together with a plan for south of the Lake Worth pier. But the state, which was paying 50 percent of the study’s cost, has no money in next year’s budget for its share. The county, Palm Beach, Lantana and South Palm Beach will have to decide how to pay for it. 

“Conceptually, we’re still on board,” South Palm Beach Town Manager Rex Taylor said.                                        

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