By Antigone Barton
LANTANA — A precarious structure in front of a condominium to the north, a rush to build when supplies are scarce, and a drill-resisting bed of cement-like sand are among the challenges this town faces in building a wall to save its beach, an engineer told council members at the end of November.
Noting these challenges, and a million-dollar price tag for the wall, which is to be built under a permit granted to protect buildings fronting the beach, a resident had a question at a recent Town Council meeting. “Are we spending this money to save the buildings?” he asked.
“We’re spending the money to save the beach,” Mayor Dave Stewart replied. “The buildings provide the opportunity.”
Since rain and rough seas collapsed dunes and walkways at Lantana’s public beach in September, three buildings — a marine safety center, a pavilion that has housed a souvenir and beach goods store, and the Dune Deck Café, have stood perched atop a fragile ledge, vulnerable to the next strong storm.
It is that threat that allows the town to bypass restrictions that could prevent a wall from ever being built, and build one immediately, Town Manager Michael Bornstein told council members in late October. If anything happens to the buildings before the wall is built, the emergency justification disappears.
And with seawalls on either side of the town’s 750-foot stretch of shoreline, engineers have said the town needs a wall to protect its remaining beach.
Thus the rush.
That impetus is part of a complicated equation of clashing interests that council members said is pushing them to act quickly while still voicing concerns that the wall they will get in the process falls short of what they want.
The wall presented by engineer Hugh Verkerk at November’s second Town Council meeting would stand about 20 feet in front of the threatened buildings, be about 12-and-a-half feet high — roughly the height of the Dune Deck’s lower level — and 600 feet long. It will be built to last about 50 years, the planned life span of other neighboring seawalls — which, built in the middle of the last century, stand rusting in front of mansions and condominiums from Manalapan to South Palm Beach.
Council members asked if the town could get a wall with a longer projected life span.
Perhaps, Verkerk said, but such a wall might not be built in time to save the buildings that stay standing. Almost all the material being made now is going to New Orleans, he explained.
Council members also questioned the length of the planned wall, which will stand before the buildings but fall short of covering the last 150 feet of public beach.
The emergency permit would allow them to erect a wall as much as 250 feet to meet an adjoining wall — but state permitters have not accepted the barrier of blocks standing before the neighboring Imperial House in South Palm Beach as an adjoining wall, Verkerk said.
Vice Mayor Elizabeth Tennyson said that this will mean leaving the remaining dune between the beach and the town’s park unprotected.
“The buildings, on a scale of one to ten, are a one for me. The park is a ten,” she said. “I don’t want to build half a wall.”
Trying to get permission to build a longer wall could take more time than the town can risk, however, Verkerk said.
Once plans are finalized, construction of the wall can be completed within three weeks, Verkerk said. The entire project, with ramps and steps, should take about three months, he said.
The work will require special equipment to push the wall material into the bed of compacted, rock-hard sand below the beach, he said, to avoid drilling or hammering that could damage the neighboring Ritz Carlton and Imperial House.
An emergency meeting will be scheduled this month to finalize plans, Bornstein said.