By Tim O’Meilia
Best case scenario: seven submerged groins and a beach 50 feet wider in South Palm Beach and Lantana by February 2016.
That’s not as much as everyone wants, but it’s likely the most anyone’s likely to get.
South Palm Beach Mayor Donald Clayman wants offshore breakwaters. Surfrider Foundation wants the sea turtles to be able to nest. Manalapan wants to make sure the sand still drifts south. Reef Rescue wants the hardbottom uncovered for marine life. South Palm Beach Councilwoman Stella Jordan wants geo-tubes considered.
And everyone wants someone else to pay for it.
The long-running saga of protecting South Palm Beach oceanfront condos and Lantana’s public beach took favorable turns last month:
• A $561,000 environmental study critical to the approval of a beach renourishment project will be completed by April. A favorable conclusion means a $3 million to $5 million groin-and-fill project could be approved and started by the winter of 2015, assuming state and local money is available, said Leanne Welch, Palm Beach County environmental resource manager.
• There’s enough sand off shore in Palm Beach County for the next 50 years to assure the area’s current nine beach renourishment projects (plus additions) will have beach-worthy sand, although the quality will diminish with time. A federal and state study concluded that after studying the sand needs for the five-county area from St. Lucie to Miami-Dade counties.
• Neither South Palm Beach nor Lantana nor Manalapan nor Lake Worth will have to pay a share for long-term monitoring of the beach, hardbottom or sea turtles along the 15-mile stretch between the Lake Worth and Boynton inlets. Palm Beach County and the town of Palm Beach will pick up the tab for that, estimated at $475,000 annually.
That makes it more likely that those towns will sign a regional beach management agreement designed to streamline and shorten the permitting process and take a broader approach to beach management.
“It’s the first time in history the state and federal and local governments are working together,” Danielle Irwin, state deputy director of water resource management, told the Manalapan town commission Aug. 27, only half-joking.
Once approved, projects included in the BMA would have an easier path to re-approval for follow-up restoration, estimated at every three years for the South Palm Beach-Lantana work.
Palm Beach and the county both signed the agreement last month. Manalapan commissioners want to poll beachfront owners before signing.
“This is a point for Manalapan. Something that doesn’t cost us a dime that lets us know what’s going on on our beach,” said Commissioner Howard Roder.
South Palm Beach council members favored signing. “It’s a better, faster, less costly way of doing business,” Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio told South Palm Beach council members Aug. 27.
“We need to do it. We need to sign it,” said South Palm Beach Councilman Robert Gottlieb after a joint meeting with Lantana commissioners Aug. 13 in South Palm Beach.
Lantana Mayor David Stewart was skeptical that his commission would sign the agreement, although he supports the local project. “You don’t know the costs down the road. If it’s $5,000 to $10,000 then you know but if it’s more, that’s not something we want to commit to,” he said.
Aside from long-term monitoring costs shared by Palm Beach and the county, those who sign the agreement would not be committing to any expenditures beyond whatever projects they are involved in, such as the South Palm Beach-Lantana project, Irwin said.
The cost of the environmental study, which includes a companion beach restoration project in Palm Beach and is not a part of the regional plan, will be shared. Palm Beach will pay $335,000, the county $173,000 and South Palm Beach $43,000 for the study.
While South Palm Beach officials favored a more aggressive approach to beach protection, Welch reminded them that county commissioners dropped plans and the Army Corps of Engineers would not approve plans for breakwaters last year.
“No one want to go in with something that’s not going to be permitted,” said Lantana’s Stewart. “Even if it’s not the best answer, it might be the only answer to get permitting.”
By Tim O’Meilia