By Dan Moffett
Four years ago, Bonnie Fischer won a seat on the South Palm Beach Town Council and quickly made beach restoration her priority.
In March, she won the town’s election for mayor. Her priority hasn’t changed and neither have the questions from residents about why there’s been so little progress implementing a plan to deal with the eroding beaches.
“It’s very frustrating,” Fischer said. “I hate that I keep giving reports but I don’t have anything new to say.”
The town has been working with Palm Beach County and the state for the last four years on a $5 million plan known as the Southern Palm Beach Island Comprehensive Shoreline Stabilization Project. But bureaucratic delays have become chronic.
The Army Corps of Engineers released a much-anticipated and belated 1,000-page draft of an Environmental Impact Statement for the project in December.
Now the county says public review of the EIS is running behind schedule, too. It could be the end of the year until the EIS is approved and completed — and many months more until residents see any changes to their beaches.
“Frankly, we’re still in limbo,” the mayor says. “It’s still a long way away from happening.”
“I empathize with your position,” Michael Stahl, an environmental program supervisor for the county, told the Town Council at its April 28 meeting. “It’s frustrating for us as well. We want to get your beaches restored, too.”
In February, Fischer attended the National Conference on Beach Preservation Technology in Clearwater. She brought back some large numbers for taxpayers to consider: The cost of the seven groins is about $700,000, the cost of replenishing the sand could run about $3.45 million over three years, and it will take about $800,000 per acre in mitigation costs to offset potential environmental damage from restoration.
“Just because we have groins doesn’t mean that’s the end,” Fischer says. “There’ll still be upkeep costs for renourishing.”
South Palm Beach’s share of the $5 million bill for the project is 20 percent, with Palm Beach County using tourism bed tax revenue to pay another 30 percent and the state covering the rest. The location of the project runs .82 miles through the town to the Eau Palm Beach Resort in Manalapan.
Since joining the commission, Fischer has pushed for the town to take a harder look at the costs of the project and consider setting money aside.
Fischer’s predecessor as mayor, Donald Clayman, had favored constructing breakwaters instead of groins. But the county has opposed breakwaters, believing federal agencies would not permit them because they do irreparable harm to the environment.
Groins are concrete panels that are mounted on concrete support piles. The groins are to be installed perpendicular to the shoreline and backed with about 75,000 cubic yards of imported sand. The hope is the groins will disrupt the southward migration of sand along the beachfront and help stabilize the town’s shoreline. Engineers believe there’s enough sand off shore in the county to last for the next 50 years to satisfy the current nine beach renourishment projects on the drawing board.
“Being a businessman, I thought you could get all this done in a year,” said Councilman Robert Gottlieb. “You get some sand and dump it on the beach. Boy was I wrong.”
By Dan Moffett