By Thomas R. Collins
BOYNTON BEACH — Drumroll, please.
After two years of meetings over how to change the Boynton Inlet in response to safety and environmental concerns, the answer is … keeping it the same?
Possibly. The Boynton Inlet Committee in December ranked a series of options — including either widening or deepening the inlet, or both — but the option that racked up the most points was that old standby choice: “Status quo.” Too many members of the committee were worried about hurricane storm surge that could flood their coastal towns when water rushes from the ocean through a wider or deeper channel.
The results make it less likely than ever that the inlet will undergo any major changes anytime soon.
The tally will now go to the Boynton Beach City Commission, which will consider the next step, if there is one.
The option that was ranked second was shifting the south jetty farther to the south. Third was a combination of shifting that jetty farther south and dredging the ebb shoal, which creates nasty waves for boat captains. Generally, the bigger the change, the lower the ranking. The most drastic change, making the inlet 200 feet wider and 10 feet deeper, ranked last.
Some members say the committee’s inability to come to any real resolution — one that, all at once, tackles safety and water-quality, and prevents worse flooding — shows that thinking about the inlet needs to get bolder.
Some say they should turn to more brazen ideas —even locks that could seal off the inlet if a storm comes.
“The process that we just went through really calls for this question to be asked: Is there an option that can address all of them together and not be mutually exclusive?” said Lantana Town Manager Michael Bornstein, whose Hypoluxo Island enclave would already be completely submerged in a once-in-a-hundred-years storm.
“We couldn’t find a way that would satisfy everybody because we couldn’t find a way that could address surge.”
Boynton Beach Mayor Jerry Taylor, one of the original proponents of examining changes to the inlet, said the results were “disappointing.” “It was an opportunity to really make something happen there,” he said. “I understand their concerns but I think we have the technology today to overcome those concerns.”
He suggested a series of gates or locks to protect the Intracoastal Waterway from surge should a storm hit.
“Let’s face it: We built the Panama Canal, we built the Erie Canal,” Taylor said. “There’s ways to control water.”
At a recent meeting of the inlet committee, engineers said such a project would be the first of its kind at such an inlet. It would also come at an enormous cost that no one has even begun to ponder.
Taylor’s response: “I think we ought to be at the leading edge of things.”
Three members gave “Status quo” the highest ranking — six points out of six — in every category, from environmental value to navigation safety, even though the existing inlet is considered unsafe. And those members — Ocean Ridge Commissioner Geoff Pugh, Briny Breezes representative Jerry Lower, and Charlie Frederick — gave almost every other option a zero in every category.
In reporting the results to Boynton Beach Public Works Director Jeffrey Livergood, engineer John Duchock of Boynton Beach-hired Applied Technology & Management said those tallies vaulted “Status quo” to the top. “We feel that this is a result of a skew in the ranking where three committee members favored the status quo and ranked the rest as unfavorable without consideration of the true merits of those options,” Duchock wrote in an e-mail to Livergood. “This is most likely driven by the perceived impact of storm surge changes.”
Bornstein said that the voting pattern doesn’t change the feeling of committee members that surge was seen as a “veto” issue.
“If one or two groups of representatives skewed the votes or the number, it doesn’t matter, because without them on board it wasn’t going to happen anyway from a political perspective,” he said.
Taylor held out hope for something to happen to the channel.
“We did a lot of work,” he said. “And I really think something needs to be done with the inlet.”
Editor’s note: Committee member Jerry Lower, an Ocean Ridge resident and Briny Breezes shareholder, is publisher of The Coastal Star.