By Cheryl Blackerby
More than 100 people looking for long-term solutions for Palm Beach County’s storm-battered beaches crowded into the Boca Raton Resort and Club’s Valencia ballroom June 15 for the second meeting of Protect Our Beaches.
Established in August last year, the group says it has 20,000 members already, both individuals and condo associations, from Jupiter to Boca Raton, who live on or near 45 miles of beaches.
Singer Island residents Sonny Nardulli and Bob Gonstead, who grew frustrated trying to get help to fix their island’s eroding and surge-damaged beaches, founded the group.
“From 2008 to 2012, we waged a fight to come up with a permanent solution to save our beaches,” Gonstead told the group, adding that their members wanted “to get our elected officials on the state and federal level to help us with our problems.”
Other objectives of the group, Gonstead said, were “to get permits done in an expedited way; and to protect our homes, protect our ecosystems and protect tourism.”
After the meeting, he spoke of his frustration dealing with myriad federal, state and local agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Palm Beach County Commission. Plans for breakwaters and groins broke down time and again from 2005 to 2012, he said.
“There was disagreement between the DEP and the Corps of Engineers, and we went back to renourishment of the beaches. It’s better than nothing, but it’s the same old thing. We spend $2 million a year and then watch it wash away,” Gonstead said.
He and Nardulli decided they needed a bigger, regional voice to get anything done. “It was too easy for the county to marginalize a small part of the beach,” said Gonstead. “We knew we had to get professional help and hired a lobbyist and a public relations firm.”
They raised money by calling condo associations and asking for membership fees ($80 for individuals). “They have helped us create this one large voice to help create solutions to our problems,” Gonstead said.
The advisory board includes Highland Beach Mayor Bernard Featherman, Boca Raton Councilman Anthony Majhess; Republican state Sen. Joe Negron; Ocean Ridge Mayor Geoffrey Pugh; Highland Beach Commissioner Louis Stern and other community officials in Palm Beach County.
The meeting, hosted by Boca Raton Resort and Club and the Beach Condominium Association, featured speakers Mike Mullins, who has worked for solutions for storm-damaged beaches in Captiva, and John Englander, Boca Raton marine scientist and author of High Tide on Main Street: Rising Sea Level and the Coming Coastal Crisis.