By Mary Thurwachter
After more than a year of debate on what material to use for the trail at the Lantana Nature Preserve, the Town Council finally decided, on June 10, to choose asphalt, the most affordable option. But at the town’s next gathering, on June 24, the council agreed to revisit the issue after several fans of the 61/2-acre preserve at 440 E. Ocean Ave. protested the use of asphalt.
Hurricane Irma severely damaged the shell rock path in September 2017. By May 2018, the town considered replacing the shell rock path with a concrete trail, a $66,000 project that would be built over two years. But many people said they weren’t thrilled with the idea of a concrete walkway in a nature preserve, and some thought the cost excessive. Since then, various ideas on what material should be used for the trail have been proposed.
Councilman Ed Shropshire suggested pavers. Councilman Malcolm Balfour said a macadam path like those at many golf courses would be a good option. Councilman Phil Aridas said he thought a pressure-treated wood boardwalk was the way to go. Composite wood was also considered. No one wanted to use shell rock again, since it washes away easily.
At the June 10 meeting, Dr. Paul Arena, ecology and environmental science professor at Nova Southeastern University and a member of the Friends of the Lantana Nature Preserve, urged the council to choose any other option over asphalt.
“I know sometimes it comes down to the bottom line as far as costs and everything for what goes in, but I’m here to staunchly oppose asphalt,” Arena said. “As you know, asphalt is a petroleum product and long-term volatile chemicals are released. It’s right in the middle of the mangroves. A couple of feet away from that trail we’ve got a healthy oyster reef. I think we’ve done a lot to protect that and enhance the preserve and I think if we did asphalt, we’d be taking a step backwards.”
Aridas, on June 10, said he was “tired of kicking this can down the road.” He said he saw asphalt used in parks in Palm Beach County and thought Lantana should go with a low-maintenance asphalt that’s compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Considering costs, Balfour agreed the town should select asphalt.
Councilman Lynn Moorhouse, who along with Mayor Dave Stewart voted against asphalt, said, “I couldn’t agree more that a petroleum oil-based tar that you put down in a nature preserve would be putting toxic stuff where it shouldn’t be.”
Moorhouse said that wood would be great, but pricey, especially when costs are added in for labor, railings and elevating the trail. “I think if you’re going to spend some money here, you’re going to go with concrete. It doesn’t require railings or elevations. And it is a shaded area, so you’re going to get some mildew, but not as much as wood.”
But it became clear that asphalt was what the town could best afford.
Because of an agreement made when the Nature Preserve was built in the late 1990s, the town is unable to spend any more money on the property than the $50,000 annual payment it receives from the Carlisle senior living facility next door.
Manager Deborah Manzo said the town allocates $18,000 a year toward expenses at the preserve to include staff salary/benefits, electricity, water, fuel, equipment/vehicles and general operating costs. “Sometimes this amount adjusts based on other circumstances,” she said. “The balance of approximately $32,000 is used for capital projects which may be funded for multiple year projects based on the cost.” She said $31,000 was carried over from last year for the pathway and will be put with this year’s $32,000.
“We have not received a quote for the asphalt yet to know if the $63,000 is sufficient to pay for the asphalt, Manzo said. “We will phase in the project (over two years) if we do not have sufficient funds or ask Council to fund the full amount and take from future revenue.”
Manzo, by request at the June 24 meeting, will also look into gunite sand, similar to the material originally used at the preserve.
“I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel, I think we need to make sure we’re putting the right wheel on the bicycle,” Stewart said.
The three council members (Aridas, Balfour and Shropshire) who voted on June 10 to go with asphalt didn’t seem swayed by the appeal to use something different.
“As far as asphalt is concerned, it’s only 7 percent oil,” Shropshire said. “It’s not that bad. There’s asphalt boat ramps. There’s a reservoir in California that’s lined with asphalt. As far as toxins are concerned, it’s not that great of concern. It’s not going to kill the oysters.”
Balfour said the town could not afford the other options, which could cost in excess of $200,000. “Nobody here wants to make an ugly nature preserve. In the old days, I know there was a lot of oil in asphalt. But now it’s much, much lower. I’d rather have something else if we had the money.”
But when polled by the mayor, Balfour said he supported asphalt, as did Aridas and Shropshire.
Bottom line: The decision to pave the nature trail with asphalt is not set in stone. The matter will be discussed yet again at a future meeting. Ú