By Dan Moffett
South Palm Beach residents are going to have to wait longer for their long-awaited beach stabilization project to begin.
Mayor Bonnie Fischer said county project planners have told her work on the town’s beaches won’t begin before November 2018, a delay of a year from the target start date.
Fischer said the problem is that the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa has decided not to participate in the project, according to county environmental officials, who told her the hotel worried about allowing heavy equipment on the beach during tourist season. With the hotel out, planners will have to submit new permit requests to state and federal agencies, a process that typically takes months.
Fischer said engineers likely also will have to redesign the project, relocating the seven concrete groins that are to be installed to capture sand. The work now will stop at the southern boundary of Lantana Municipal Beach.
“We’re going on 10 years with this now and we just got another delay,” she said. “Sand does not stay within political boundaries. Municipalities really need to work together. Unfortunately, with Eau Palm Beach out, we’ve got a little issue where they’re not interested in working together.”
The resort was the only private commercial enterprise in the project’s half-mile footprint. The town of Manalapan has no public beaches and is not included in the stabilization plan.
Michael King, the Eau’s managing director, said the resort was “never really part of the project” and had environmental concerns.
“We thought the groins were not good for the southern coastline because they would be disrupting the natural flow of sand to the south,” he said.
Town Manager Bob Vitas criticized county officials for failing to communicate with the project’s prospective participants. Vitas and Fischer have worked for months to line up easements for construction with condo associations and homeowners. Now much of that likely will have to be redone, Vitas says.
“You would have thought that this county and its environmental management agency department would have reached out long ago to the folks at the Eau and got this thing taken care of before we jumped through all those hoops,” he said. “And now we have a 12-month delay and that translates into 12 months of cost. That’s not anything that this town is responsible for. This delay is truly not ours. It is the county’s delay.”
The $5 million plan for stabilizing South Palm Beach’s shore is built on a partnership among governments that have committed to split the bill: The federal government will pay half of the project, the county 30 percent from its tourism bed tax, and the town the remaining 20 percent.
In other business, council members awarded a $34,300 contract to Alexis Knight Architects of West Palm Beach to study and report on possible Town Hall improvements by the end of the year.
Vitas said the cost is about half what the town was prepared to pay. Alexis Knight will determine how the town might remodel its building and use space better.
By Dan Moffett