Related story: Highland Beach negotiations underway for fire truck, rescue vehicle and staffing
By Dan Moffett
Five coastal municipalities have joined to pay for a study to explore the feasibility of forming a barrier island fire district.
The first formal vote on the idea came on Nov. 13 in Gulf Stream, when the Town Commission unanimously approved putting up $39,000 to hire Matrix Consulting Group of Keller, Texas, the low bidder among four companies that submitted study proposals.
The other four towns in the group have agreed to share in the expense: Gulf Stream, after reimbursements from its neighbors, hopes to end up paying $9,677, as will Manalapan and Ocean Ridge.
Briny Breezes and South Palm Beach will contribute $5,000 each. Highland Beach, which was considering participating, has decided to pull out and continue contracting for fire and emergency medical services with Delray Beach.
“Briny Breezes at the very front end told us they could not equally share in the cost,” said Gulf Stream Town Manager William Thrasher. “We felt they were an important component and to bolster good will between the communities we recognized their inability to fund such a project.”
Briny Breezes’ importance to the plan is available real estate — several parcels on the west side of A1A that could become the site for building a fire station that would serve the southern end of the proposed district. The maintenance building behind Ocean Ridge’s Town Hall likely also would require an overhaul for use as another station.
If the sites in Briny don’t work out, Thrasher says it might be possible to find space in his town. The problem with moving to Gulf Stream, however, is that there would be no chance of obtaining federal or state grant money to pay for the station’s construction.
The district movement comes after years of frustration with fire service providers on the mainland whose fees have been increasing and whose response times seem to have been, too.
Gulf Stream Mayor Scott Morgan said that, if the plan proves viable, it could mean self-sufficiency and that the towns “would not be at the contractual whims of Delray Beach or Boynton Beach, or anyone else that would have to provide that service to us.”
Gulf Stream Vice Mayor Robert Ganger said the town had been setting money aside for a feasibility study for three years. “It’s money well spent,” Ganger said. “This is a really important project.”
Matrix Consulting is expected to begin the study with visits to the coastal towns beginning in December and will have 90 days to file a report. Representatives of the towns said they chose Matrix not because it was the lowest bidder but because its proposal was the most detailed.
Fitch and Associates of Platte City, Mo., was the group’s second choice with a bid of $48,600, and Thrasher said the company would be the alternate if one is needed going forward.