By Dan Moffett
After Palm Beach County abruptly pulled out of a plan to stabilize her town’s eroding shoreline in February, South Palm Beach Mayor Bonnie Fischer said she was determined to find another option.
Now Fischer says she’s working on the details of a Plan B that she says would bolster the town’s dune line and replenish the lost sand on its beaches.
The partner this time isn’t the county but the town of Palm Beach. Fischer is negotiating an agreement with her neighbor to the north to work together on a beach dune restoration project that calls for buying tons of newly dredged sand from Palm Beach and moving it to the shores of the South Palm Beach condos.
Besides sand, the project would involve new plantings — sea oats in particular — to fortify the town’s dunes.
The cost to South Palm Beach could run about $700,000. The town has the money in hand, having put it away over the past five years to pay for the scuttled project with the county. The mayor said the sand likely would be trucked from Palm Beach to South Palm Beach.
The advantage of using dredged ocean sand, rather than hauling it from inland sources, is that it more closely matches what’s already on the beaches.
Fischer said she has the support of Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio and her counterpart’s Town Council for the partnership.
“Gail has been extremely helpful,” Fischer said. “We’re very fortunate if this goes through with Palm Beach and we’ll be able to get some sand. Otherwise, we have no other option. We’re all private beach. The state’s not going to come in and fund a project.”
State Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, has confirmed that no help is likely to come from Tallahassee anytime soon. During a report on the legislative session given to the South Palm Beach council at its July 23 meeting, Caruso said the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael last year has drawn all the state’s beach resources to the Panhandle.
“Mexico Beach still doesn’t have electricity and still doesn’t have water,” Caruso said. “One of the things I was disappointed about is that almost all the dollars for beach restoration and dune recovery were shipped up there to help those who were devastated by Michael.”
Fischer said she hopes to have Robert Weber, the coordinator of Palm Beach’s coastal protection and dredging program, discuss the plan at South Palm Beach’s Aug. 13 meeting. Work could begin as early as November when turtle season ends.
One major hurdle that remains is gaining easement access to bring the sand to the coastline. Fischer and Town Manager Robert Kellogg have been meeting with condo groups during the past month to negotiate agreements.
Easements from condos were also a problem with the county project, which called for installing a network of seven concrete groins to hold sand and stabilize the town’s beaches. The project, which was conceived after Hurricane Wilma tore up the South Palm waterfront in 2005, also was met with opposition from neighbors to the south who claimed the groins would interfere with the natural flow of sand and damage their beaches.
The town of Manalapan and the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa threatened to sue to stop the project. In the end, county officials cited soaring costs — from a $10 million plan to something closer to $25 million — for shutting it down.
“It’s still a roll of the dice because one storm could take out all the sand,” Fischer said of South Palm’s Plan B. “But we don’t have another choice.”