By Steve Plunkett
After a five-year hiatus, Boca Raton, Palm Beach County and the Florida Inland Navigation District are talking again about restoring Lake Wyman and its neighboring parks.
Officials with FIND, the taxing body that maintains the Intracoastal Waterway, are “very excited that this has come back to life,” said Jennifer Bistyga, the city’s coastal program manager.
Bistyga updated City Council members at their April 25 workshop on recent discussions she has had with the county and FIND and gave a short history of the Lake Wyman project for the three members who were not on the dais in 2011.
She also listed several simpler alternatives that might garner more support from neighbors, such as making a walkway through the parks unpaved instead of using asphalt. The first time around, neighbors scuttled the proposal over concerns about whether it would create a mosquito nuisance, whether a paved path would cause erosion, and whether manatees drawn to the enhanced park would be maimed or killed by weekend boat traffic, Bistyga said. They also feared new amenities at the south end of the project would be too far away from the restrooms in Rutherford Park.
The original plan called for the removal of invasive, non-native plants in the northern part of Rutherford Park; restoration of the mangrove habitat; and restoring tidal flushing by dredging one mile of the canoe system, which is “pretty much unnavigable at this point,” Bistyga said. The proposal also would have connected paths and boardwalks to create a 1-mile walkway, built a six-slip day dock and submerged 4 acres of land to create seagrass habitat and a coastal hammock.
At the southern end of the project this time, Bistyga said, the city could decide to follow the 2011 plan or make Lake Wyman more like the county’s Ocean Ridge Natural Area with an unpaved trail. It could also choose to do nothing, which would not enhance the park, she said. The day dock could be moved to the north end, she said, and the north end could also become a more passive project.
County and FIND officials “are still very interested in working with the city and developing and constructing a Lake Wyman project, whether it be the original or a hybrid project,” Bistyga said.
In 2011, the estimated cost of the restoration was just more than $3 million, with FIND contributing $2.1 million and the county and city $450,000 each. Coincidentally, Bistyga said, a “third party” has volunteered to pay for the construction of a mangrove ecosystem at the north end of the project as well as its continued maintenance. Mayor Susan Haynie said the third party is a developer from Highland Beach that needs mitigation credits for mangroves.
As part of the deal, FIND wants permanent access to a storage site for dredged material at the northwest end of Spanish River Park.
Council member Scott Singer asked whether a boat launch could be put in the north end of Rutherford Park. Bistyga said it would be more difficult to get the necessary permits but not impossible.
Real estate agent Gary Youngman, who lives in Boca Towers on the barrier island facing Lake Wyman, said it’s no place for a boat launch.
“The potential for environmental disaster by putting a dock in there is tremendous,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Michael Mullaugh, who supported the restoration the first time, was still in favor.
“Everything you’ve said that I’m hearing today tells me that what we really ought to do is implement the 2011 plan,” he said.
There’s a narrow timeframe for getting a deal done. FIND would want all permits in hand by September 2017. Boca Raton needs to reapply for a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, which will take a year if there are no big changes to the original plan and more time if new options are chosen, Bistyga said.
“We certainly hope that out of this is going to come something that we can really make happen,” said Jim Miller, president of the Friends of Gumbo Limbo, which operates canoe trips from the nature center across the lake to Rutherford Park twice a month.
By Steve Plunkett