The Coastal Star

Highland Beach: No agreement yet on regional planning council’s bill

By Rich Pollack

Weeks after Highland Beach officially canceled its consulting contract with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council following the defeat of a multimillion dollar bond referendum, the two organizations are still at odds over who owes money to whom and how much.

In an April letter to the planning council’s chair and executive director, Highland Beach officials said they were disappointed and not only did not want to pay $44,000 the town owes, but also wanted back some of the $103,000 it had already paid.

The town hired the planning council to help create conceptual plans for three Complete Streets projects that would have been done in conjunction with Florida Department of Transportation improvements on State Road A1A and to shepherd those projects through.

In a May letter, Thomas Lanahan, the council’s executive director, disagreed with Highland Beach’s assertion that it failed to meet expectations and asked the town to pay $23,000 for work the council did.

Late last month, Lanahan and Town Manager Marshall Labadie spoke and expressed hope that differences could be resolved amicably.

In the April letter, Highland Beach claimed that it was misinformed about a tight deadline for when the FDOT wanted a financial commitment for the Complete Streets projects.

For months town officials had been told they needed to have the conceptual plans for the projects — which included a stormwater improvement project, improvements to the Ocean Walk multiuse corridor and surrounding areas, and installation of underground utilities — to the agency by late March. They later learned that the up to $45 million project could be postponed for a year. 

Lanahan, in his response, said the planning council was not aware that the deadline had changed.

“We disagree that the council in any way failed to keep the town informed or misled the town about FDOT’s deadlines,” he wrote.

Lanahan said that during a meeting with FDOT officials in November, representatives from the town and the planning council raised the question of the deadline.

“Relief was sought from FDOT but they insisted on a March 31 deadline and also required a firm commitment for funding on the town improvements,” Lanahan wrote. “Our work took place on that basis.”

Lanahan said the FDOT on Jan. 25 again told council staff that there was no flexibility on the deadline. A few days later, however, agency officials agreed to a one-year extension.

“Council staff immediately informed the town manager of the new deadlines,” Lanahan wrote. “Any decisions on how to proceed at that point were up to the town.”

Town commissioners, in a controversial 3-2 vote, agreed to go ahead with the referendum.

In seeking additional money from the town, Lanahan pointed out that the council has not been paid for some work that was done before the referendum.

“It was never assumed that the project would move forward past the Town Commission and referendum and payment to the council was not contingent on final approvals,” he wrote. Ú

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