By Dan Moffett
The Manalapan Town Commission and the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa are teaming to lawyer up against a planned beach stabilization project that would install seven concrete groins along the oceanfront in South Palm Beach.
Mayor Keith Waters and the commissioners have repeatedly expressed their opposition to the project, saying it would disrupt the natural flow of sand southward and damage Manalapan’s beaches. Now they’re preparing to make their case in court, if necessary.
Representatives of the Eau have complained about the potential environmental damage and the negative impact on guests during tourist season, when construction would have to be done to avoid turtle-nesting season.
Working together, the commission and the resort can share legal expenses, the mayor said.
“At the end of the day, we need to fight to protect the asset we have and we need to do it collectively,” Waters said during the Nov. 13 town meeting. “We need to fight the fight we need to fight.”
Waters and the commissioners say they would prefer not to litigate, but think the project’s sponsors, Palm Beach County and South Palm Beach, have shown no signs of reversing course.
“If they’re looking for a fight,” said Commissioner Jack Doyle, “they’ve found one.”
Some 13 years in the making, the stabilization plan calls for installing seven groins on the beaches from South Palm’s northern line to Lantana Municipal Beach.
The county has committed to paying 30 percent of the $6 million project with tourism tax revenue, and South Palm is to cover 20 percent. The state has pledged to pay the other 50 percent.
County environmental managers, who are overseeing the project, say it is in the final stages of review to obtain a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
A target date for starting construction in November 2019 remains possible, though unlikely.
Manalapan and the Eau intend to hire the West Palm Beach law firm of Foley & Lardner to argue their objections. Town Manager Linda Stumpf said legal fees could run between $525 and $740 an hour. Waters said he wants to solicit support from the town’s southern neighbors, Ocean Ridge and Gulf Stream, which also have expressed concerns about the project.
“Let’s make sure we have our team in place all the way down the coast,” he said.
In other business:
• Commissioners gave unanimous final approval to a six-month moratorium on construction projects in the town’s southern end.
The moratorium affects about 30 property owners with land on both sides of State Road A1A.
The commission wants to use the timeout to allow the Planning and Zoning Board to review building rules — particularly those that restrict the size and use of beach houses and cabanas along the ocean.
Commissioners requested the review after approving a new cabana request in September on property owned by Jeffrey Lee. That property already has a beach house at 3070 S. Ocean Blvd.
• Efforts to expand the town’s Police Department have gotten a boost from the commission’s approval of a defined benefits retirement fund for employees. Chief Carmen Mattox said the town is receiving more applications for openings from candidates who are better qualified because the pension plan is more desirable.
“We used to have to chase people,” Waters said. “Now they chase us.”