By Dan Moffett
An administrative law judge in Tallahassee has rejected developer William Swaim’s request for a permit exemption that would allow him to build an access road behind the Ocean Ridge Town Hall.
Judge Bram D.E. Canter agreed with attorneys for the South Florida Water Management District that Swaim’s plan to fill in up to three acres of the lagoon raised environmental concerns and also was a potential impediment to boaters.
If Swaim’s project went forward, “maneuvering a boat in and out of the docks at Wellington Arms or between the docks and (the) proposed eastern wall would be difficult,” Canter wrote in his 15-page opinion released May 14. “It would be unsafe in windy conditions.”
The SFWMD had opposed the project also because it would mean destroying much of the mangrove forest in the lagoon.
Canter rejected Swaim’s argument that the waterway did not deserve special environmental protection because it was a “dead muck zone” created decades ago when the Army Corps of Engineers dredged it for mosquito control.
Canter found that the lagoon “is not an artificially created waterway” and that “the project would violate state water quality standards.”
Swaim says he wants the road so he can build a single-family home on a lot north of Town Hall. He proposed the idea to Ocean Ridge town commissioners last year, and they have been waiting to take it up until Swaim received permits from SFWMD.
The ruling is a victory for a coalition of condo residents and property owners along the lagoon who opposed the project. “This would do damage to a natural wetland,” said Jeff Eder, one of those opponents. “I honestly don’t think this project can get off the ground — because it doesn’t deserve to.”