By Dan Moffett
South Palm Beach is facing months of continued delays to beginning its much-anticipated beach restoration project.
The town had hoped to start work on its eroding beachfront this fall. But Mayor Bonnie Fischer now says it’s unlikely anything will happen until after the first of the year, at the earliest.
“We’re still at ground zero,” Fischer said. “We still have issues with easements. We’re having a really difficult time.”
The plan calls for partnering with neighboring Palm Beach and buying as many as 1,000 truckloads of sand the town is currently dredging as part of a large beach renourishment project to the north. The sand would be hauled south and then used to fortify the South Palm Beach dunes.
The problem is the town still has no way to deliver the sand to its beach. Property owners have been reluctant to allow access for the work.
The project got a huge boost on Oct. 19 when the Palmsea condominium voted unanimously to grant the town an easement and use of the east-west thoroughfare that runs from State Road A1A next to the condo building.
“That’s a big one — getting Palmsea’s support,” Fischer said.
Still other access issues and opposition remain with the owner of a private single-family residence, other condo residents and potentially even the Town of Lantana.
“We’re still trying,” Fischer said, “but it’s a controversial project.”
The plan is a substitute for a joint project with Palm Beach County to install groins on the beach. That project fell apart early last year because of skyrocketing costs and objections from neighboring communities to the south that feared the groins would steal sand flowing their way.
The partnership with Palm Beach would cost the town between $700,000-$900,000 to buy the sand and install erosion-resistant plants along the dune line. Unlike the groin plan, Fischer says the substitute project has “no long-term value” because, without groins, there is no guarantee the new sand wouldn’t be swept out to sea by the first storm surge.
The clock is running on South Palm Beach. Work has to be completed by May to avoid interfering with turtle nesting season. “We hope something can happen,” Fischer said.
In other business:
• Despite a tough budget year with revenues diminished by the COVID-19 pandemic, South Palm Beach was able to deliver a slight tax break to residents at a time when most Florida municipalities were struggling to make ends meet.
In September, the council voted to drop the town’s tax rate for the 2020-2021 budget to $3.54 per $1,000 of property valuation — which is below the $3.55 rollback rate that would hold taxes flat year over year, and below the $3.59 of last year. Though most taxpayers aren’t likely to notice the small reduction, Vice Mayor Robert Gottlieb says it demonstrates the council’s commitment to fiscally conservative budgets.
“We’ve cut the tax rate five years in a row now,” Gottlieb said. “That is important.”
Taxable values are up 22% in South Palm Beach, the highest increase in the county, thanks to the opening of the $72 million 3550 South Ocean condo building.
• The council approved a two-year contract renewal for Town Manager Robert Kellogg, maintaining his annual salary at $100,000.
Hired in December 2018 after serving as manager in Hillsboro Beach and Sewall’s Point, Kellogg has brought stability to a position that went through a period of administrative turmoil. South Palm Beach had three managers come and then go in the three years before Kellogg’s arrival.
The council originally agreed to give him a one-year contract but then unanimously approved his request for two years.
“We had five managers in five years,” said Councilman Bill LeRoy. “Now we’ve got a hardworking, responsible manager. I’d be happy to have him signed up for a multiyear contract as opposed to a one-year contract.”