By Steve Plunkett
The next time Boca Raton dredges the hazardous ebb shoal in the Boca Raton Inlet, it will be allowed to deposit the sand north of the inlet instead of south.
Hillsboro Beach, the town just south of Deerfield Beach in Broward County, blocked such a transfer in March, complaining to the state that the proposed placement ran counter to the natural flow of sand, robbing it of needed material for its eroded beaches and endangering sea turtle nesting.
Boca Raton, which had a dredge contractor offshore to renourish its north beaches, was forced to put shoal sand south of the inlet but fought Hillsboro Beach’s claims.
On Dec. 11, Tallahassee-based administrative law judge Bram Canter sided with Boca Raton.
“We are pleased,” city spokes-woman Chrissy Gibson said. Canter’s ruling is technically a recommendation to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “Accordingly, FDEP will still need to act on the recommendation and issue the permit modification,” she said.
Canter seemed most swayed by learning that Boca Raton had dredged sand from the mouth of the inlet to its north beaches before with no ill effects and by several details Hillsboro Beach either left out or got wrong.
Hillsboro Beach argued that sand naturally moves north to south along the Atlantic coast, but Canter determined it could also flow the other way.
“In this particular area, about 80 percent of the sand drift is to the south,” Canter wrote, leaving 20 percent to travel northward.
Also, Canter said, Hillsboro Beach’s expert coastal engineer, William Dally of the University of North Florida, based his opinions on assumptions “that were shown to be mistaken.”
For instance, Dally believed that the 2006 dredging of 340,000 cubic yards of sand from the ebb shoal and its placement north of the Boca Inlet led directly to the town’s need to renourish its beaches in 2011.
“However,” Canter wrote, “it was shown that the town’s renourishment project was planned in 2005, which means the town was addressing an erosion problem that existed before the 2006 dredging of the ebb shoal.”
Furthermore, Boca Raton’s south beach was “full” after it received 80,000 cubic yards of sand from the shoal so no more could be placed there, Canter said.
There was one bright spot for Hillsboro Beach in Canter’s 27-page order. He accepted as a finding of fact that the rock groins Deerfield Beach installed in 1958 block sand from going south.
“The Deerfield Beach ‘groin field’ is the single-most important cause of erosion to the town’s beaches,” Canter wrote, noting that the northernmost groins are mostly buried but 15 southern groins are still trapping sand.
Hillsboro Beach is suing Deerfield Beach over the groins, saying it must spend millions of dollars to repair its beaches.
Manalapan officials are contemplating legal action to sink a Palm Beach County plan to install concrete groins in South Palm Beach.
Kenneth Oertel, Hillsboro Beach’s Tallahassee-based environmental-law attorney, said the town was “disappointed” by Canter’s findings.
Boca Raton’s rewritten permit will allow a one-time placement of 80,000 cubic yards of sand from the ebb shoal to the north beach.
“That project, if it is constructed, will cause increased erosion to Hillsboro’s already disappearing beaches,” Oertel said.
The state’s beach management plan calls for Boca Raton to place 83,000 cubic yards of sand south of the inlet each year to account for the inlet’s interference with sand drift. The city has been exceeding that target, placing on average 87,100 cubic yards a year, Canter wrote.
Weeks Marine Inc., the city’s dredge contractor, cut a 20-foot-deep channel through the ebb shoal last spring, but that was “only in one small portion of the shoal,” Jennifer Bistyga, Boca Raton’s coastal program manager, said at the time.
In 2015 boaters took pictures of one another standing waist-deep in the inlet. Captains headed to sea had to make a sharp turn south to avoid bumping or worse on the shoal, then watch for swimmers and snorkelers at South Inlet Park before going into the ocean.