By Dan Moffett
Prospects dimmed for a barrier island fire district as officials from six coastal communities dug deeper into a consultant’s feasibility study last month.
The preliminary report from Robert Finn, a manager with Texas-based Matrix Consulting Group, uncovered two significant problems that could derail the plan. Both are costly.
For one, contrary to earlier estimates, revised numbers suggest that it would be difficult for the six towns to save money on operational expenses if they provide their own fire-rescue services. In fact, forming a district likely would require them to pay more each year.
The other problem is delivering service to a district that stretches roughly 20 miles from South Palm Beach to Highland Beach and that is connected mostly by a single two-lane road, State Road A1A. Safety officials now believe that it will take four fire stations to cover the zone, meaning two new facilities would have to be built somewhere between the existing stations in Manalapan and Highland Beach.
Even with four stations, the town representatives say they would still need mutual aid agreements with mainland service providers to ensure the proposed district is properly covered during the tourist season and periods of high recreational use.
The preliminary report suggests that the price tag for creating the district is significantly higher than previously thought.
“That’s the big gorilla in the room — cost,” said Bob Vitas, South Palm Beach town manager.
Finn said he would have the study revised and completed before the end of June. Then the report will go to the elected bodies in the six towns — South Palm Beach, Manalapan, Ocean Ridge, Briny Breezes, Gulf Stream and Highland Beach — for consideration.
By Dan Moffett