By Cheryl Blackerby
Wildlife at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is in peril because of long-standing problems with pipes and tanks, Boca Raton Beach and Park District commissioners were told at a commission meeting July 21.
“Several weeks ago, there were catastrophic failures of all the pump systems that were Band-Aid systems put on in the last few years,” said Michele Peel, spokesperson for Friends of Gumbo Limbo.
Peel said more animals may die if the city continues dragging its feet on making needed repairs at the center.
“Two years ago, the city decided to take on the project to address that system,” she said. “We still do not have either a short-term or long-term solution to a problem that was identified four years ago.”
In an impassioned plea to the commission, she said, “I’m asking for continued support in finding a way to help the city turn this project into a reality so that we stop losing wildlife in the tanks.”
Peel later said no sea turtles have died at Gumbo Limbo because of equipment failure, and she didn’t know what wildlife was lost. (Buddy Parks, deputy director of recreation services for the city of Boca Raton, later said a few fish and a moray eel had died after a pump failed.)
The district spent $67,000 last fall for piping that was a temporary fix to make sure the proper mix of saltwater was delivered at the times and quantities necessary to maintain marine life, district acting director Art Koski reminded commissioners.
And more importantly, $1.5 million for fixing the facility’s equipment problems is included in the district’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.
Koski said he met with representatives from the city and Gumbo Limbo, and a consulting engineer in March to discuss what needed to be done to preserve the facility for the long term.
The “intermittent failures” of the pumps were discussed at the meeting along with potential hydraulic and construction solutions, he said.
“We left the meeting with an understanding that there would be an attempt made to get this project at least started from a design point of view and a construction point of view,” said Koski. “We told the people attending that meeting that the Beach and Park District would do whatever was necessary financially and otherwise to assure the longevity and continued operation of this facility.”
Koski said the city officials promised the project would get started.
“We’re now going on five months after the meeting took place and absolutely from what I can see very little if nothing has been done with regard to an overall solution to the problem,” he said.
He said he was later told by the city there was “difficulty in the procuring process, that is, having the design consultant be put under appropriate work orders in order to accomplish the design.”
Koski said he told the city that the district already had a contract with Miller Legg consulting firm to work on improvements to Red Reef Park and Gumbo Limbo, so the district could get the Gumbo Limbo project moving.
The answer from the city, he said, was thank you but no thank you.
“We weren’t looking to take anything away from the city of Boca Raton,” he said. “Their input from all their departments would still be exactly the same as if they were doing the project — the utility department, the environmental department, the recreation department, everybody would be able to have the same amount of input and the same amount of control over the project.”
Koski told Peel that although the district reimburses the city for the operation and maintenance expenses at Red Reef Park, it is the city’s property. “If the city of Boca Raton elects not to have us involved, then that is their decision.”
District commissioners decided to send the city a formal letter reiterating their offer of money and a consultant.
“We all have to keep our fingers crossed that some major occurrence doesn’t take place that will be extremely harmful to this facility that’s one of the most popular attractions in the city,” said Koski. ;