By Tim O’Meilia
Officials of south county coastal towns fear that signing on to a regional beach management plan now in the works would cost their taxpayers money without guaranteeing any new sand on eroding beaches.
Several environmental groups think that the plan — designed to streamline obtaining permits and treat regions as a whole instead of individually — will short-circuit their attempts to challenge projects.
The inlet-to-inlet plan being developed by state, county and local officials initially will not include any beach rebuilding projects for the South Palm Beach-Lake Worth-Lantana-Manalapan area, but those towns will be asked to help pay for ongoing beach, hardbottom and turtle monitoring programs.
Permanent beach monitoring would make obtaining permits from state and federal agencies quicker, but there is no guarantee projects would be approved.
“It’s all about the costs,” Lantana Town Manager Debbie Manzo said of the monitoring. “Is it $10,000 or is it $100,000?”
South Palm Beach Town Manager Rex Taylor echoed her concern.
The state Department of Environmental Protection wants the four towns, Palm Beach, Palm Beach County and environmental groups to sign the agreement when its final form is agreed upon, perhaps as soon as December.
“In concept, we think the beach management plan is a good idea, but we have no idea what the costs are going to be,” said Manalapan Town Manager Linda Stumpf.
She also is concerned with a cost formula based on each town’s shoreline. Manalapan would be assessed for 17.2 percent of the cost for its 2.7 miles of the total 15.7 miles of beach from Lake Worth to the Boynton Inlet. Stumpf said that would be excessive.
Stumpf said it was unlikely any beach project would be undertaken in the town, and the beaches from the Ritz-Carlton Resort south are not considered in need of repair.
“Almost all of the beaches in Manalapan are considered private. Spending public tax dollars for private property is not very likely,” she said.
Under the monitoring cost formula, South Palm Beach would be assessed 3.4 percent, Lantana 1 percent and Lake Worth 1.2 percent. Lake Worth has not participated in any of the discussions to develop the regional plan.
Four of the five projects being considered in the plan are in the town of Palm Beach. The town would pay for 77.2 percent of the monitoring programs.
Danielle Fondren, chief of the state Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, acknowledged that the towns have raised concerns about the monitoring costs and the value of the plan to them.
She said officials would calculate current monitoring costs by November and estimate future expenses by December.
Fondren said long-term monitoring would expedite developing any environmental impact studies, which are often necessary to obtain federal renourishment permits.
Palm Beach County commissioners earlier this year killed plans for 1.3 miles of breakwaters and groins from southern Palm Beach to Manalapan over concerns about the effects on nesting sea turtles and sea grasses.
But county commissioners later agreed to revive the issue if hard structures are not considered. Federal officials said that the environmental study is stalled for the moment; county officials said computer modeling is under way to try to develop an effective plan without using hard structures. That testing won’t be completed until March.
County officials urged the towns to stay involved in the plan. “As long as they continue to participate, it will make life easier for projects in the future,” said Dan Bates, deputy director of Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resource Management.
Representatives of Surf Riders and Reef and Rescue quizzed Fondren at an Oct. 11 meeting over their ability to file challenges during the permitting process.
Fondren said there would be opportunities to question both the regional plan and also the individual plans as they are introduced.
“They still haven’t addressed my concern on the impact of these projects to offshore reefs,” said Ed Tichenor of Reef and Rescue.
Others complained that contractors do not monitor well the silting caused by dredge and fill projects.
“I don’t see how streamlining a project is protecting the environment,” said Palm Beach resident Connie Gasque.