By Rich Pollack

It was just about two years ago when a pair of vacationers swimming in the ocean off Highland Beach got caught in a riptide and found themselves unable to get back to shore.
Using a condominium’s private beach access, Highland Beach Police Chief Craig Hartmann and Delray Fire Rescue Capt. Chris Zidar ran from the town’s nearby police and fire stations to the beach and pulled the swimmers to shore safely.
While the rescue had a happy ending, the situation might have been different had a vehicle been needed to assist the swimmers.
That’s because there are no municipal beach access points along State Road A1A that can accommodate the Police Department’s all-terrain beach vehicle or any other rescue apparatus.
Now commissioners are putting a priority on finding a way to make it easier for first responders and others working for the town to have easier beach access.
To reach the beach by vehicle, emergency personnel now have to drive the Police Department’s all-terrain vehicle to access points either in Delray Beach or Boca Raton. There is no public beach in Highland Beach.
“We don’t have a town access point,” Vice Mayor Alysen Africano Nila said during a commission meeting last month. “It’s easy to say we have never had a problem with this before, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be one in the future.”
Hartmann said his department does have agreements with condominiums and private property owners along A1A that allow officers and other first responders to access the beach on foot.
The department, for example, has security codes for walkway gates leading to the beach and has permission from many homeowners to walk through their property to get to the water.
“We are able to get anywhere on the beach quickly in an emergency,” he said. “But for routine patrols and any situation where a vehicle would be used, we need access. Right now, there’s not a central point that makes it easier to get to the beach.”
Nila and Town Manager Marshall Labadie said in addition to public safety, municipal beach access would make it easier for the town to address issues such as beach raking and beach erosion.
“One of the biggest constraints to moving forward with beach and shoreline concerns is a lack of access,” Labadie said.
Vehicle access would also make it easier for the public works team and the town’s code enforcement officer to get to the beach.
The Public Works Department, for example, uses a vehicle to empty trash cans along the beach, but must leave town in order to get to the beach and return.
The town manager said he would reach out to property owners along A1A to see if there is any interest in working with the town to resolve the issue.
Labadie said some of the options could be shared land-use agreements or municipal vehicle easements.
While the town is hoping that access could be provided at no cost to taxpayers, Labadie said all options will be explored.
“Nothing has been ruled out and everything is on the table,” he said.
Labadie said that should the town find a way to get vehicles on the beach, access would be limited to municipal vehicles and others receiving town permission.

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