By Thomas R. Collins
Since it was built in 1927, the Boynton Inlet has seen regular nips and tucks and tweaks, with changes to its jetties and a system installed for shifting sand to the sand-needy south end.
Time for an all-out overhaul, some local officials say, arguing that the inlet is unsafe for boaters and should be widened and deepened.
Oh, no, you don’t, say others, warning that they don’t have enough information about potential flooding or harm to reefs.
Engineers working for the Boynton Inlet Committee have drawn up five proposals for inlet changes and the committee is scheduled to start ranking them at its Dec. 12 meeting.
But the plans also bring worries about hurricane storm surge. And any major changes couldn’t happen until the A1A bridge over the inlet is replaced — a project that isn’t even on the table.
Officials with Boynton Beach, which has hired engineering firm Applied Technology & Management to analyze the options, hope that at least some changes can be made.
“It takes a seasoned seaman or seawoman to get through there,” Boynton Beach City Manager Kurt Bressner said.
Ocean Ridge Commissioner Geoff Pugh, a member of the committee, said there are too many questions to even begin ranking the proposals: Might the extra water flowing into the lagoon flood the barrier islands? With pollution, now bottled up in the lagoon, flowing out into the ocean through a bigger channel, what might be the effect on nearby reefs?
“Is it going to flood or not, and is it going to kill my reefs or not?” Pugh said. “Yes or no?”
The firm produced an 83-page report using a $200,000 grant from the South Florida Water Management District.
The inlet is criticized not only for being narrow — about 60 feet narrower than the Boca Inlet, ATM engineer Michael Jenkins said — but also because the jetties on either side limit visibility as boaters try to make their way into the Atlantic.
Even worse, shoals to the east of the inlet create shallow waters that promote waves that have broadsided and capsized even professional boat captains’ vessels.
“This one is particularly notable for safety issues,” Jenkins said.
But if the inlet were widened by 200 feet — the most ambitious of the options — an extra 2 feet of storm surge would flood Ocean Ridge, Manalapan and Hypoluxo Island in a once-in-a-hundred-years storm, according to ATM’s report. And that doesn’t factor in rainfall or other effects, such as a storm hitting the coast at a particularly damaging angle.
But Jenkins noted that 7 feet of surge would already hit — flooding the barrier islands and leaving Hypoluxo Island totally underwater — in such a storm. The effect on structures from the extra surge hasn’t been evaluated.
Manalapan Town Manager Greg Dunham said the conversation should have stopped with the finding that so much more storm surge would hit the islands.
“It goes without saying, this one is the most important criteria for the town of Manalapan and the results are not good,” he said.
Then there’s the problem of the bridge: It would probably cost $50 million to $100 million to replace, according to the ATM report, and it’s not going anywhere.
“The cost and difficulty of effecting such a change would so dominate the decision-making and cost estimates that it really needs to be elevated to near the top of the issues during any further work or discussion about changing the inlet,” wrote Cliff Truitt, director of engineering for Coastal Tech, a firm working for Manalapan.
With the bridge there, nothing could be done to widen the inlet, which engineers say would improve water quality by flushing the lagoon of harmful nutrients.
Bressner said he hopes that some smaller improvements that don’t require replacing the bridge — changes to that dicey shoal area, for example, and signs letting boaters know about dangerous conditions — can be made for relatively little, but can make the inlet somewhat safer. Jenkins said it’s worth it to start planning, even if everything can’t be worked out at one time.
“If you look at all the constraints up front,” he said, “you will quickly come to the conclusion that nothing can be done.”