By Rich Pollack
In what may be more a shot across the bow than a serious salvo, Highland Beach is again signaling it does not want sand off its coast used for another city’s beach restoration project — even though it has no legal claim to the sand.
In its latest effort to preserve the sand off its coast — should it be needed onshore — Highland Beach is taking aim at a Delray Beach renourishment project set to begin late next year.
Even though some leaders privately acknowledge that the town could benefit from the project as sand is driven south by currents, Highland Beach voiced its objection in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has permitting authority over the project.
The letter comes after the Corps of Engineers, which is helping to fund the project, contacted Highland Beach as part of its requirement to seek public comment on a permit modification for the restoration project.
“The Town of Highland Beach objects to the city of Delray Beach project that seeks to renourish its beach with sand dredged from a borrow area located, in part, off our shoreline,” Town Manager Marshall Labadie wrote.
In response, Delray Beach officials point out that the borrow area from which sand is taken extends only about 700 feet south of city limits.
“The city is following all state and federal guidelines and is coordinating with all the regulatory agencies,” spokeswoman Gina Carter said. “The permit modifications proposed will support the city’s long-term beach nourishment program and provide the sand source for the city’s sixth periodic beach nourishment project planned for winter 21-22 and subsequent renourishment events.”
Delray Beach will use about 1 million cubic yards of sand to restore about 2.8 miles of beach from above Atlantic Avenue to just south of Linton Boulevard, according to the Army Corps.
Highland Beach’s objection comes several months after dredging off the town’s coast for a Boca Raton restoration project caused an uproar among residents and community leaders.
After doing research, town officials learned that Highland Beach did not object to the project years before, when it received notification from permitting agencies. The town also learned that it has no legal claim to sand off its shores, which is in state waters, and little power to stop properly permitted projects.
Highland Beach town staff has been in contact with staff in Boca in hopes of having input on future restoration projects.
In his letter to the Army Corps regarding Delray Beach’s project, Labadie spells out several reasons for the town’s objection, including environmental concerns such as potential damage to offshore reefs and disturbances to turtle nesting sites.
He also addresses concerns about the dwindling amount of beach-compatible sand off the Florida coast due to beach restorations. Without enough sand available offshore, some cities, especially in Miami-Dade County, are forced to truck in sand, which is more expensive.
“Continued sand dredging in a borrow area located offshore of the town is compromising our ability to effectively and efficiently restore our beach areas following large storm events and/or damage resulting from other climatic and sea-level rise impacts,” Labadie wrote.
Town officials recognize that their efforts to stop Delray’s restoration project have only a slight chance at success but say they are hoping to send a message to state lawmakers and regulators about flaws in the permitting process.
“The town is hoping the state will rethink the way they’ve been doing this for the last 30 years,” Labadie said. “We’re not trying to be a bad neighbor, we’re just concerned about the long-term ramifications of this process.” Ú