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The aging Audubon Causeway bridge must be replaced or repaired.

Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

By Dan Moffett

    Commissioners will have to dig deeper than expected into town reserves to replace or repair the aging Audubon Causeway bridge on Point Manalapan.

    That’s the news Town Manager Linda Stumpf delivered during the commission’s Dec. 17 meeting, after receiving a report from Bridge Design Associates, the town’s engineering consultant.

    “They did a complete evaluation,” Stumpf said, “and it was a little bit unsettling.”

    The consultant came back with two options: The town can spend about $528,000 to repair the bridge and expect about 10 to 15 years of service before it would have to be replaced. It can’t be repaired again, the consultant said.

    Or, the town can spend about $750,000 to replace the bridge and expect about 50 years of use before something would have to be done again.

    Back in the spring, when the bridge project first surfaced, the commissioners were talking about a modest repair job of $100,000 or maybe $200,000. But the bridge has been steadily deteriorating and getting progressively lower evaluations in the Florida Department of Transportation’s biennial reviews.

    “If we don’t do anything to the bridge for two years, there will be weight limit restrictions placed on the bridge until we do,” Stumpf said, “which could impede people that are doing major renovations and need to use it.”

    The commissioners unanimously approved Stumpf’s plan to get engineers to develop plans for both repairing and replacing the bridge and come back with cost estimates. The commission wants to put the project out to bid in January. 

    To pay for the construction, the town would use about $125,000 from water plant reserves and as much as $625,000 from unassigned general reserves.

    Stumpf said the project could start as early as April, which would enable work to be completed before the next tourist season begins in November. 

    One-way traffic would continue during the project. FDOT also advised the town to set a 13-ton limit on the structure and restrict boaters from going underneath because of the possibility of falling concrete.

    “They strongly suggest we post weight limits on it now, which we really have to do to protect our town,” said Mayor David Cheifetz, who said he leaned toward replacement as the right option, believing that it would be more cost-effective over time than repairing it.

    Stumpf had one more piece of bad news for the commission. The consultant’s estimates didn’t include replacing the aging water line that runs across the bridge — an undetermined cost that will require some reserve digging, too.

In other business:

    • Commissioners gave unanimous preliminary approval to two amendments to the town’s comprehensive development plan.

    Cheifetz characterized the move as “simply a housekeeping matter” and said the approval “corrects some inconsistencies in our zoning code.”

    But Gary Parr, the vice chairman of the asset management firm Lazard Ltd., appears to disagree with that assessment. Parr bought the historic Casa Alva property in December 2012, and he and his attorneys have asked the town not to make any comprehensive plan changes that would diminish his development rights.

    Parr’s 5-acre property was named specifically in the amendment the commission approved. But Cheifetz says the change “doesn’t affect his rights at all.” 

    Town attorney Trela White characterized the amendment as merely a mapping designation that assigns Parr’s property residential status, not commercial, which doesn’t change its current use.

    The two amendments are scheduled to come up for the commission’s final approval at the Jan. 28 meeting. Cheifetz said the town will carry on negotiations with Parr until then. 

    • Cheifetz announced that he has chosen Commissioner Chancey Johnstone to lead a task force on beaches. The mayor said the group has a “fact-finding” mission and will consider a variety of erosion, sand transfer and sea level change issues, then report to the commission.

    Other task force members include Michael King, general manager of the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, Bart Smith, manager of the Ziff family estate, resident Kent Shortz and Stumpf.

 

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