Palm Beach Island to be state model for beach renourishment

Jun 20, 2012

The following article was published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on June 20, 2012:

Palm Beach Island to be State Model for Beach Renourishment

By David Fleshler

Attempts to restore South Florida’s eroding beaches frequently generate their own sand storms. Governments argue about funding and sand sources; environmental groups fear possible harm to coral reefs and sea turtles.

Hoping to end these fights, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday presented a plan to make Palm Beach Island a model of cooperative beach protection, the first in what could be a series of such programs.

Environmental groups and other stakeholders would be brought into the planning process early, with a regional approach to projects, rather than a fiercely local one. The idea is it makes more sense to plan beach protection over an area bounded by inlets than by municipal boundaries.

“We want to manage the beach as a regional resource, as opposed to project by project, or permit by permit,” said Danielle Fondren, chief of the environmental agency’s Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems.

The department presented its new approach to the Palm Beach County Commission, where it received generally favorable reviews, although commissioners also expressed some concerns.

The Palm Beach Island pilot program, being worked on now, will attempt to coordinate beach renourishment projects, funding, the dredging of offshore sand, the maintenance of anti-erosion structures and other activities to protect beaches across 15.7 miles of shoreline.

If successful, the plan will be reproduced on other beaches, such as the stretch of coast running from the Boca Inlet to the South Lake Worth Inlet.

“This is really something we should have been doing a long time ago,” Commissioner Karen Marcus said. “Asking the question: ‘If I put this here, what is it going to do there?'”

Commissioner Burt Aaronson expressed skepticism at the plan’s attempt to establish the sand needs of each beach over the next 50 years, saying sea-level rise and hurricanes would make any estimates guesswork rather than planning. Commissioner Priscilla Taylor expressed concern the county could lose its freedom of action by committing to such a broad agreement.

Commissioner Steven Abrams praised the plan, saying, “It brings in interest groups from the beginning.”

There have been two meetings so far among public officials, land owners, environmental groups and other stakeholders to identify priority projects and coordinate future work. The department plans to have a draft agreement ready this summer, with a final one in December.

Ed Tichenor, director of Palm Beach County Reef Rescue, which has opposed beach renourishment projects that would smother corals, said the meetings appear to be a good-faith attempt to bring in all sides of the issue. He said this is an important process that could end up being reproduced in Broward County and other parts of the state.

“The reason I’m participating is to make sure we don’t lose all the environmental safeguards,” he said. “They’re trying to have an open dialogue on this, and I have to give them credit for that.”

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