The Coastal Star

South Palm Beach: Opposition from several fronts greets breakwater plan

By Tim O’Meilia


Palm Beach County officials are pushing ahead with plans for a breakwater-and-groin project along a 1.3-mile stretch of largely South Palm Beach shoreline despite
critical reviews by federal agencies of a similar project along Singer Island
in Riviera Beach.


“We’re simply seeking a method to protect our residences here,” said South Palm Beach Councilman Brian Merbler.


But the South Palm Beach project won’t go forward without opposition from environmentalists, surfers and even lifeguards.


More than 50 people from Palm Beach to Manalapan attended a May 27 meeting at the South Palm Beach Town Hall to voice their concerns. Most of the dozen people
who spoke argued the breakwaters and groins would do more harm than good.


Their worries will be included in an environmental impact statement drafted by consultants for the Army Corps of Engineers. A preliminary report is due
January 2011.


South Palm Beach has long sought a beach project to protect its 13 oceanfront condominiums and a hotel from increasing erosion. In recent years, two
buildings were temporarily evacuated during strong nor’easters until boulders
could be carted in to protect building foundations from strong surf.


Eighteen limestone breakwaters would form dashes in the ocean about 200 to 250 feet off shore, 200 feet apart — reaching from southern Palm Beach to the south boundary
of the Ritz-Carlton resort in Manalapan.


Four groins of concrete or sheet pile would poke 100 feet off shore from the Lantana public beach. In addition, sand would be placed to add about 105 feet to the
present beach.


The project, which likely would not begin until the fall of 2012, would cost $10 million to $20 million. The state would pay half, the county 30 percent and
South Palm Beach 20 percent. None of the money has been set aside yet.


Several speakers feared the groins and breakwaters would only intensify rip currents like the one that caused the drowning of a Georgia couple May 15 in South Palm
Beach.


“The worst thing to do is to put groins in a swimming area,” said Chris Redgate, chief of the Lantana lifeguards. “It creates rip currents and blind spots.”


A Lantana resident worried about strong eddies being formed between the breakwaters. “Breakwaters are targets to swim to for kids. If there are currents between
these breakwaters, that may cause problems,” said Al Young.


Others said the project would cause environmental harm to protected sea turtles, smalltooth sawfish and coral.


“Breakwaters will be very damaging to the sea turtles,” said Drew Martin of the Sierra Club. “Hatchlings will be attacked as they come out of the breakwaters.”


The breakwaters and groins will discourage surfing at the Lantana beach, a popular spot. “The purpose of the breakwater is to break up the surf. Effectively the
surf will be gone,” said David Olsen.


Another speaker said the groins would block the natural southerly drift of sand, eventually starving Manalapan beaches of sand.


Manalapan Town Manager Thomas Heck said he would wait for the environmental statement before taking a position on the project.


The county asked the corps to suspend its view of the Singer Island project so it could consider alternatives. Federal agencies said the breakwaters would block
the southerly flow of sand, harm sea turtles and other marine life and hamper
surfers and swimmers.


Anticipating criticism, South Palm Beach Mayor Martin Millar and Councilwoman Stella Jordan suggested the corps consider submerged breakwaters rather than those proposed,
which would protrude from the ocean by a foot and a half, on average.


“Above-water breakwaters are a problem. Maybe a below-water breakwater would work better,” Millar said.


Merbler said he expected opposition to the project. “I didn’t hear anything that was factual, just fear tactics,” he said.


“We have to protect the real estate as well as the environment,” he said. “There has to be a balance there.”


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