By Hector Florin
Coastal cities are jockeying for a piece of the $787 billion stimulus package, with a focus on water utility projects, but many are not convinced their area will benefit much in the short term. Aside from Delray Beach, coastal cities from Gulf Stream north to Manalapan are collectively eyeing a dozen or so improvements that city leaders believe could qualify for about $4 billion in state and federal funds — an estimate provided by U.S. Rep. Ron Klein’s office. The stimulus money could save or create 200,000 jobs in Florida, he said. Municipal representatives met with Klein on Feb. 18 in West Palm Beach, and the Palm Beach County League of Cities discussed the stimulus package on Feb. 25. The early estimate shows just more than half of the $4 billion expected to trickle down to Florida is dedicated to programs related to food and nutrition programs, families and education. In other words, not enough for small cities to take advantage of by looking for dozens and dozens of projects. Exactly how much will go to Palm Beach County has not been forecast. “The barrier islands, I don’t think, can hope for very much,” said Ocean Ridge Mayor Ken Kaleel, who is the current county League president. “We’ll give it a shot. All they can do is say no.”
Delray Beach, on the other hand, has identified 27 “shovel-ready” projects reaching into the tens of millions of dollars. With a population of 65,000, the city is open to a wider array of grant money.
“Design is basically funded for all of these projects,” City Manager David Harden said.
Palm Beach County has a slew of road-paving and water infrastructure plans ready to go, said Todd Bonlarron, the county’s legislative affairs director. Much emphasis will be made on job creation through local economic development programs.
Here is where coastal towns stand on seeking stimulus money:
Ocean Ridge: Town Manager Ken Schenck identified three projects, all drainage-related, to the state. At the top of the list is $500,000 for pumping water through a catch basin at the Coconut Lane cul-de-sac. Kaleel said he would like partnering with Palm Beach County to perform some work at Ocean Ridge Natural Area. Getting rid of non-native animals and improving the health of the mangroves would enhance the 25-acre nature preserve.
Lantana: A well west of Interstate 95 is under construction, and the town will look into applying for money to build a second new well nearby, Town Manager Mike Bornstein said. The estimated price tag is $750,000. Funds for drainage projects and renovation of the town’s main lift station might also be considered. Gulf Stream Town commissioners on Feb. 13 confirmed their interest in seeking funds to cover up to $4.9 million to build a sewer system, as the town relies on septic tanks. Tens of thousands of feet of piping, 103 manholes and 9 lift stations are part of the project. And commissioners asked Town Manager William Thrasher to express a desire for underground utilities funding, which became part of a $3.5 million request sent to Klein’s office. Commissioner Chris Wheeler said at the commission meeting he considered it a “shovel-ready project.”
Manalapan: The town is confident a 2,000-foot water main project near Town Hall — already designed, and with a company already selected to do the work, estimated at $300,000 — would qualify for stimulus money. Similarly, water treatment plant improvements and a reverse-osmosis well project — about $1.2 million worth of work — are ready for construction, Town Manager Gregory Dunham said. Add the replacements of four hydro-pneumatic water tanks, two located at the water plant and another two at the library, totaling at least $500,000. The tanks are at least 35 years old, Dunham said.
“We’re making sure some of our more valuable assets, if not our most valuable asset — the water facilities — are up to date,” he added.
Delray Beach: A $12 million recreation and fitness center, on city-owned land at the northwest corner of Congress Avenue and Lake Ida Road, tops the city’s wishlist. Downtown road resurfacing projects and other infrastructure improvements throughout the city also qualify as “shovel-ready projects,” City Manager Harden said.
Briny Breezes: Is all rosy in Briny? That’s the sentiment for now, as the town has not expressed any interest in seeking funds. “We have nothing in the pipeline, so there was no sense to apply for anything,” Mayor Roger Bennett said.