By Mike Readling
After years of watching the thick mangrove shoreline along the Intracoastal Waterway in Boynton Beach become thinner and host to substantially fewer mangroves, Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resource Management department has taken action.
ERM recently began installing breakwaters just north of the Ocean Avenue Bridge, in the area of Two Georges restaurant.
The construction of the riprap breakwaters is a move the department hopes will help buffer some of the boat wakes that have been pounding the shoreline vegetation. Loss of mangrove cover along the shoreline leads to loss of habitat for a variety of species, both land- and water-based.
“Over the past few decades, we’ve lost a lot of mangrove shoreline around that area,” said Brock Stanaland, senior environmental analyst for ERM. “It was continuing to erode, so we decided to build these breakwaters to help prevent erosion and protect the mangroves.”
Stanaland said ERM has had its eyes on this particular area for a long time, but only recently was it able to move to correct it.
“We’d been watching this situation for years,” he said. “It was a matter of getting stars to line up so we could attack the given problem. This just happened to work out.” The breakwaters will be constructed on both sides of the Intracoastal by Pinellas County-based M & J Construction. They are being constructed with limestone boulders and will measure a total of 2,200 square feet when they are finished. Stanaland said work should be completed by the first of June at an estimated cost of $650,000.
“There will probably be five separate breakwaters on each side of the waterway,” Stanaland said. “We wanted to break them up to allow for some natural flushing and to allow fish — or anything else — to be able to come and go without getting trapped.” In addition to this project working to control boat wakes on the Intracoastal, several groups of residents recently voiced their concerns to the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission about that same subject.
About 50 citizens packed into the auditorium at the Boca Raton Administrative Building to let their voices be heard regarding changes the FWC is considering.
The FWC Boating and Waterways Division released eight pages of proposed rule changes for the 47-mile stretch of Intracoastal Waterway that runs through Palm Beach County. The changes are in the preliminary phase, with the division seeking comments. Comments from the group looking to slow boats down focused on protecting boats tied to docks, the impact of waves on sea walls and worry for people participating in activities such as water skiing and jet skiing.
“There are kids being pulled on tubes behind Jet Skis that fall in the water and those people in the big boats can’t see them just bobbing there,” said Anita Casey, who lives on the Intracoastal, just south of the Bush Boulevard Bridge. She was backed by a large contingent of residents from Seagate Towers condominiums in Delray Beach.
“They need to slow down the big boats that are doing a lot of damage and putting human lives in danger,” said Seagate resident Don Platz.
Several residents stood to oppose any changes to the current regulations, which include a combination of no-wake, slow-speed and 25-mph zones. Two of those, Lisa Wilcox and Cass Riese, live in the Regency Highland condominiums in Delray Beach and are regular waterway users. “I like watersports and I chose to move here to be close to the water,” Wilcox said. “I don’t want the Intracoastal to become paralyzed. During the time I have lived here, I have seen respect for and between boaters and people cooperating with each other.”
One outspoken proponent of keeping the waterway speed limits where they are was Highland Beach resident Joe Kuhn, who summed up his group’s argument with a simple question.
“These people sit here and talk about all the boats going fast and kids bobbing in the water that are going to get hit. Where are the numbers? Where are the numbers of people dying in the Intracoastal?” Kuhn asked. “I feel there is a lot of hyperbole that doesn’t belong here. The Intracoastal belongs to the people of Florida. You can own your land, you can own your house, but you can’t own the water.”
The FWC will hold several more meetings in the coming months to continue to hone the language and direction of the new regulations. For more information, go to http://myfwc.com/RECREATION/boat_waterways_index.htm.