By Tim O’Meilia
Local officials are hoping to shave months off a two-year environmental impact study that could lead to beach restoration in South Palm Beach, Lantana, Lake Worth and southern Palm Beach.
The $560,000 study is required to get federal approval of the latest version of a beach plan — an estimated $5 million project that would place seven short groins along the South Palm Beach-Lantana shoreline and dump about 75,000 cubic yards of sand on severely eroded “hot spots.”
“We are committed to completing the study in a year,” town of Palm Beach coastal coordinator Robert Weber told South Palm Beach Town Council members July 23.
Required public hearings and public comment timetables would extend approval time beyond a year, Palm Beach County officials said.
“We can’t shorten the advertising and public commenting period. It’s federally mandated,” said Leann Welch, environmental resource supervisor for Palm Beach County. “We’re hoping to shorten the time of the study itself. We don’t have to re-study the reef. We’ve already done that. We’re hoping to tighten the time frame.”
The South Palm Beach plan is being studied jointly with a separate Palm Beach plan at the insistence of federal officials since the two projects are adjacent. Palm Beach would pay $340,000, the county $165,000 and South Palm Beach about $40,000 (20 percent of the county’s share).
Palm Beach officials attended the South Palm Beach Town Council meeting to encourage the town to sign an inlet-to-inlet coastal management plan that considers projects regionally and promises to streamline studies and permitting for follow-up projects.
“It takes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get to the starting line,” said Palm Beach Town Manager Peter Elwell. “We see a lot of benefit to the BMA (beach management agreement) so getting approval isn’t the regulatory quagmire it has been.”
A sticking point for South Palm Beach, Lantana and Manalapan is the possibility of paying a share of the cost of monitoring of the coastline, hardbottom and sea turtles regardless of whether renourishment is ever approved. Elwell said Palm Beach will pick up the tab for the three towns.
Under one scenario, South Palm Beach would pay $19,372, Lantana $5,103 and Manalapan $4,725 annually, based on their length of beach. That included no county contribution.
“We realized that would discourage you from participating. The town of Palm Beach is saying we will do the rest,” Elwell said.
Palm Beach was scheduled to pay 92 percent of the estimated $472,000 annual cost since 12 of the 15 miles of coastline between the Boynton and Lake Worth inlets are in the town. Now, the county will pay about $50,000 for aerial photography and graphics it performs annually anyway. Palm Beach will pay the remainder.
“We can be a signatory without any cost to us,” said South Palm Beach council member Stella Jordan.
“We need to support this but we need to look at the cost,” said Councilman Robert Gottlieb, referring to the town’s share of the project being studied.
Council members said they would consider the agreement in the next two months. Palm Beach has signed and the Palm Beach County Commission will consider it Aug. 13.
Lantana and Manalapan officials said they had not been notified of Palm Beach’s plan to absorb the monitoring costs. Neither has formally considered signing the agreement.
“The last I heard was that we would be asked to pay 17 percent of some undetermined number,” said Manalapan Town Manager Linda Stumpf. “Without knowing what those costs are, I couldn’t advise my commission to participate.”
“It’s another piece of the puzzle for us to consider,” said Lantana Town Manager Deborah Manzo.
A public informational meeting on the proposed joint project is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at Palm Beach Town Hall, 360 S. County Road, Palm Beach.