The Coastal Star

Delray Beach: Ownership questions stall Marine Way flood projects

It’s unclear if Clair Johnson’s dock would have to be removed to allow work on the sea wall. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Jane Smith

For decades, a few Delray Beach residents have lived on the first block of Marine Way where extreme high tides flooded the road and part of their lawns by as much as 15 inches.
It became the go-to place for local TV stations to show flooding scenes from high tides that occur several times a year. Water would flow out of the adjacent Intracoastal Waterway. Video would be broadcast of fish from the mangroves swimming down Marine Way.
Water also pushed up through the stormwater drains, adding to the flooding.
Last fall, Delray Beach finally got started on the Marine Way flooding problem by hiring the Wantman Group Inc. for $284,373 to create a conceptual plan and site analysis.
Now the project is on hold.
In August, Public Works staff reported that West Palm Beach design engineers had found the city does not own the road or the submerged, crumbling sea wall.
Through title and easement searches it appeared the Florida Inland Navigation District or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the property encompassing the road and the sea wall. But neither agency owns the land or the sea walls, according to Glenn Scambler, the district’s finance director, and Nikki Nobles, Army Corps spokeswoman. The entities do have easements near and in the Intracoastal Waterway.
As a result, city staff says it can’t legally proceed and the delay has left the residents in limbo. Not only would they have to live on a street that floods several times a year, they’d also have to worry about losing their docks. Repairs or removal of the submerged sea wall may require the private docks to be removed.
Also, one of the city’s plans included a promenade connecting Veterans Park, north of Atlantic Avenue, with the city’s marina in the second block of Marine Way. The walkway would sit out in the Intracoastal, east of the mangroves and the submerged sea wall.
“We paid taxes on the docks,” said Genie DePonte, a Marine Way resident. “I use mine for entertaining.” Her dock was permitted by the city and Army Corps when the previous owner installed it in 1989, she said.
She joined neighbor Clair “C.J.” Johnson, his wife and another property owner, Adam Bankier, to hire Miami attorney Tucker Gibbs, who declined to answer questions, citing lawyer-client confidentiality rules.
The city has not determined whether dock removal is necessary, Susan Goebel-Canning, Public Works director, said via email. “That determination will be made by the Army Corps during the permitting process,” she wrote.
The remaining two houses and the historic Anchorage apartment building are owned by the Burt Handelsman family. Burt and his wife of nearly seven decades, Lovey, were divorced earlier this year. They are in the final stages of dividing the properties among themselves and their adult children. None of the parties could be reached.
The Florida Internal Improvement Trust Fund likely owns the submerged land in the waterway, said Tamara Crocker-Howard of the Army Corps’ Jacksonville office.
The state Department of Environmental Protection oversees the trust fund. As of press time, DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller had not heard from the southeast division.
Fixing Marine Way’s flooding problems will not be easy. The one-block stretch has a decayed road bed from tidal flooding, private docks, a sea wall in the Intracoastal that is submerged and no longer usable, and various regulatory agencies involved, city stormwater engineer Jeff Needle said at the time Wantman was hired.
Marine Way was platted prior to 1896, according to the city. In the 1930s after the Army Corps created the Intracoastal, mules were stationed on each side to pull barges through the channel.
The city wants to keep the $2.8 million in the budget for the current financial year while it figures out the ownership issues of Marine Way. The money would be used to improve the drainage, rebuild the road and add a new 2-foot-8-inch-tall sea wall.
DePonte and Johnson both said that’s too high. Neither is an engineer, but they said a 10- or 12-inch curb on the west side of the mangroves would keep back the tidal flows.
The neighbors also want a gate at the base of the street where Marine Way meets Southeast First Street. Signs now warn of flooding and restrict access to residents.
Farther down Marine Way, adjacent to the city’s marina, the stormwater plans are in the design stage, Public Works said. The marina, last renovated in 2002, will be redone during the next financial year.
On the north side of Atlantic Avenue, west of Veterans Park, the Atlantic Crossing project proceeds with excavation on the western garage.
“Atlantic Crossing’s plans have been designed and engineered to deal effectively with any deviation of the water table from tidal influence,” said Don DeVere, vice president of project developer Edwards.


King tides
The highest tide in Delray Beach’s Intracoastal this autumn — 3 feet, 8 inches — will come at 10:50 a.m. Oct. 9, NOAA says.

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