Get the news that is important to you in This Week in Palm Beach. August 17, 2018 edition.
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A tropical wave located east-southeast of the Windward Islands continues to produce disorganized showers and thunderstorms.
It is moving west- northwestward at 15 mph.
Environmental conditions are only marginally conducive, and significant development of this system is not anticipated. This disturbance is expected to continue moving westward at about 15 mph and is forecast to move through the Windward Islands on Saturday, where it could bring locally heavy rainfall to portions of the Lesser Antilles during the next couple of days.
* Formation chance through 48 hours...low...10 percent.
* Formation chance through 5 days...low...10 percent.
After 18 months of public hearings, debate, study and a September vote supposedly killing the proposal, the city commission Monday night gave its final approval to create the Okeechobee Business District.
The City Commission ignored all,the overriding concerns that the plan to incentivize office construction would paralyze downtown traffic and allow a 25-story luxury tower in a waterfront area that West Palm Beach voters had limited to five stories.
The commission voted unanimously to designate the busy section of Okeechobee Boulevard from CityPlace to Flagler Drive as a district with rules that encourage office and hotel construction.
Despite urging from the Florida Department of Transportation, Palm Beach and Palm Beach County, that the city wait for a state study to evaluate the zoning change’s potential traffic impact, the commission went forward at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s urging, arguing that the plan — by limiting development on the downtown Tent Site — would actually reduce what could be built in that area under current rules.
WPB Mayor Muoio Pledges to Plow Ahead on Okeechobee Business District (OBD) (Civic Association News)
Includes letter from FDOT objecting to the OBD.
Town of Palm Beach Objects to West Palm Okeechobee Business District (Civic Association News)
Includes letter from the Town objecting to the OBD.
Early voting for the Primary Election started today in Palm Beach County. The early voting dates are Monday, August 13, 2018 through Sunday, August 26, 2018. Voting Times are 10:00 am - 6:00 pm daily.
The closest location to the Town of Palm Beach is the Palm Beach Conventiion Center at 650 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach, FL 33401 and the Supervisor of Elections Office.at 240 South Military Trail, West Palm Beach, FL 33415.
To find out about the candidates and more about the elections, click on the Civic Association Elections Webpage.
Get the news that is important to you in This Week in Palm Beach. August 10, 2018 edition.
To subscribe to This Week in Palm Beach and receive it in your inbox, CLICK HERE
Civic Association News Video [3:58]
The Civic Association has been reporting on the City of West Palm Beach’s plan for their Okeechobee Business District and Mobility Study Plan.
Now the Florida Department of Transportation has officially weighed in. FDOT sent a letter to West Palm stating there needs to be more time to complete traffic studies, mitigation plans, and prove that West Palm’s plan to build around the Okeechobee Corridor, and eliminate lanes for car traffic, won’t overload the main thoroughfare on and off the island of Palm Beach.
Town of Palm Beach Mayor Gail Coniglio has made it clear that the Okeechobee Corridor should be a four member partnership between FDOT-which owns the road, Palm Beach County, the City West Palm Beach, and the Town of Palm Beach. She said she looks forward to working together with all the partners to protect access for the island and resolve the gridlock on Okeechobee Corridor.
In her reaction to the FDOT letter, City of West Palm Jeri Mayor Muoio pledges that West Palm will plow forward on Okeechobee Business District despite traffic concerns.
The city commission will move ahead with its final vote Monday to create an Okeechobee Business District, despite strong criticism from the state transportation agency, Palm Beach County and the Town of Palm Beach.
Despite Traffic Concerns, West Palm Set to OK Okeechobee District
The proposed zoning change would alter the land use rules for Okeechobee Boulevard, from CityPlace to the waterfront, to encourage construction of the top flight office buildings the city wants to attract high-end employers.
Read More (Palm Beach Post) $
August 7, 2018
Mr. Richard Greene, AICP
Development Services Director
City of West Palm Beach
401 Clematis Street
P.O. Box 3147
West Palm Beach, FL 33402
Dear Mr. Greene:
SUBJECT: DEO #18-1ESR — Okeechobee Business District FDOT Agency Review
The Florida Department of Transportation ("Department") has reviewed the proposed
Okeechobee Business District Comprehensive Plan amendment for the City of West Palm Beach
with a Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) reference number "18-1ESR." This letter,
identifying deficiencies and concerns, serves as the Department's agency response.
In accordance with ss. 163.3161(3) and 163.3184(3)(b), Florida Statutes, the Department's
review focused on major transportation issues, including adverse impacts to transportation
facilities of state importance. These facilities include the Strategic Intermodal System (SIS) and
significant regional resources and facilities, such as Okeechobee Boulevard, that are identified
in the Strategic Regional Policy Plan by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council. These
facilities are vital to the economic vitality, growth and quality of life of the county, region and
1. The City has not demonstrated through data and analysis, the long term adequacy of
transportation facilities to meet established acceptable levels of service, as required by
ss. 163.3177(1)(f), 163.3177(3)(a)3, 163.3177(5)(a), and 163.3177(6)(a)8.a, Florida
Statutes. The City's analysis of the amendment more specifically fails to address existing
and projected levels of service and facility needs on Okeechobee Boulevard. No trip
generation and assignment of project traffic on the network was provided. This information
is vital to plan for needed facilities and services and to formulate policy recommendations
regarding effective mitigation strategies to avoid adverse impacts.
2. Per s. 163.3177(2), Florida Statutes, there is an appearance of an internal inconsistency
in the comprehensive plan between the future land use amendment and City
Transportation Element Policy 2.3.5-h. According to this policy, the Downtown Master
Plan (DMP) and the Transportation Concurrency Exception Area (TCEA) are predicated
on a set of assumptions needed to provide and implement the transportation goals of
the comprehensive plan. This Okeechobee Business District (OBD) amendment, being
contained within the DMP boundaries, alters the land use assumptions and potentially
the function of the DMP districts and the intended mitigation strategies in a way that
may not have been conceived by the TCEA as originally adopted and could result in
adverse impacts to the State Highway System.
Recommendations to eliminate, reduce or mitigate adverse impacts
Recommendation for comment #1
The City should provide sufficient time prior to the adoption of this amendment to
engage agency stakeholders and the public regarding the impacts of the OBD to the
transportation network. The impacts should be determined by conducting a
transportation analysis based on professionally accepted methodology as agreed to by
agency stakeholders, including the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Agency, Palm
Beach County, the Town of Palm Beach, and the Department.
The City is a participant on a multi-stakeholder committee and a technical
subcommittee that were recently formed in response to the City's proposed West Palm
Beach Mobility Plan. The Department is providing technical assistance to the
stakeholders to analyze the vision and strategies of the Mobility Plan to determine long
term impacts to Okeechobee Boulevard. This effort will work towards achieving
consensus regarding the traffic engineering methodology to use for analyses that will
identify projected impacts and will provide beneficial information for the prioritization
of improvements to maintain mobility. The Department recommends that the adoption
of this amendment be delayed so that pertinent information can be considered by the
City and adjustments made to the OBD amendment as warranted. Results of this effort
are scheduled to be presented to the multi-stakeholder committee in December of this
Recommendation for comment #2:
Prior to adopting the OBD amendment, the City should update its TCEA objectives and
policies to ensure that identified TCEA mitigation and transportation improvements correspond
to the impacts resulting from changes to the DMP that have occurred since the original TCEA
adoption in the 1990's.
The Department commits to working with all agency stakeholders to develop traffic solutions
that will maintain the flow of trips on the Okeechobee Boulevard corridor; and we thank you
for being part of this effort. If you have any comments or questions about this letter, please
contact Mr. Larry Hymowitz at (954) 777-4663.
Stacy L Miller, P.E.
Director of Transportation Development
cc: Lorenzo Aghemo, Director— Palm Beach County Planning Division
Verdenia C. Baker, County Administrator — Palm Beach County
Kirk Blouin, Town Manager —Town of Palm Beach
Michael Busha, Executive Director — TCRPC
Jennifer Carver, Statewide Community Planning Coordinator — FDOT Central Office
D. Ray Eubanks, Plan Review and Processing Administrator - FDEO
Jeri Muoio, Mayor - City of West Palm Beach
David L. Ricks, County Engineer— Palm Beach County
Richard Shine, Attorney — FDOT Central Office
Nick Uhren, Executive Director — Palm Beach TPA
By: R. Michael Brown, Civic Association Communications Director -- The Civic Association reported in April of this year that the Flagler Bridge (North Bridge) was continuing to have malfunction problems and closures, the latest on Sunday, August 5.
UPDATE [From Angel Gardner, spokesperson for FDOT]
"A bridge malfunction occurred at approximately 9:20 a.m. Sunday at the Flagler Memorial Bridge. The malfunction occurred as a result of a loose limit switch providing conflicting information on the status of the southeast span. The limit switch is an electrical/mechanical component that provides information on the position of the spans. A bolt on the limit switch arm had loosened, moving the limit switch out of position. To correct the problem, the limit switch arm was put back into position and tightened. The bridge reopened at approximately 11:16 a.m."
"As a result of the malfunction, the bridge operational testing period will be extended for another 60 days."
Additional Questions / Answers 8-10-2018
The Civic Association sent questions about the bridge to the FDOT team and here are their answers:
What is the testing plan is to resolve the Flagler bridge malfunction issues?
We are currently in the second operational testing period. This operation testing period allows any potential issues to be addressed and resolved. With each malfunction that occurred, the cause was found and resolved.
What engineers are looking into the problems? Who are they and from what firms/organizations?
PCL Civil Contractors company is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the bridge. PCL will remain financially responsible for the operation and maintenance of the bridge until final acceptance at a cost to them of approximately $40,000 a month. They are responsible for resolving any issues related to the bridge. On Thursday, PCL’s subcontractor, Edwards Electric, performed additional preventive maintenance on various bridge components to preempt possible malfunctions. They are expected to be out there for the next three weeks. The designers of the bridge, Hardesty & Hanover, are also inspecting and monitoring the bridge. In addition, the Department’s project team continues to monitor and supervise bridge maintenance and operations.
Are more outside consultants being used?
There are currently no outside consultants being used by FDOT at this time. An outside consultant was brought in by the Department in April 2018, which cost approximately $15,000.
How does the the 60-day non-malfunction stipulation work in the PCL contract?
The contract requires the bridge to operate for 60 days without a malfunction. If a malfunction occurs, the bridge operation testing period will restart for another 60 days.
How confident is the state in the bridge operation? Confident enough to take it over?
FDOT has required the 60-day operation testing period, free of malfunctions, to ensure the bridge is operating properly prior to department acceptance.
Extra money has been spent to evaluate and fix problems in the last 12 months. Did the taxpayer pay for those or did it come out of the bridge contractor’s budget?
PCL is financially responsible for any maintenance or repairs.
When the state takes over the bridge, how big is the budget to fix and maintain the operation of the bridge?
Components of the bridge will be under warranty for up to 10 years, depending on the parts or mechanisms that may need to be replaced or repaired. The Public Information Officer said she will provide the cost of operating tand maintaining the bridge after the state takes it over.
FROM THE ORIGINAL STORY:
The last we heard from the bridge contractors was that the software for operating the bridge needed “tweeking.” That was May 8th. (See the May Civic Association Story)
Apparently, a software upgrade wasn't enough. The bridge continues to break down.
Late last week the Palm Beach Post / Daily News reported that the problems continue and their reporter, Joe Capozzi, did a full, detailed, investigative report. On Sunday morning when the story was fresh on the cover of the Shiny Sheet, Flagler Bridge broke down again at 9:37 a.m. It was down until 11:15 a.m.
No explanation has come from the bridge contractor, consultants, or FDOT for the Sunday malfunction [See UPDATE Above]. It was the latest breakdown since June 7.
That date is important because PCL Civil Contractors were supposed to complete its project obligations, which includes a stipulation in the contract for the bridge to be malfunction-free for 60 days, and then turn it over to the state. The latest breakdown on August 5 was exactly 60 days. Does that mean the clock will start again for another 60-days before they turn the bridge over? We are waiting for a statement from the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) on that status.
The bridge has had 26 breakdowns in its first 12 months. Each time officials thought they had found a fix. Then the bridge would break down days or weeks later.
The Civic Association is following and supporting Mayor Coniglio’s leadership with the contractors and the state to push them to get it right.
The season is coming. A booming economy and exploding tourism in Florida is going to bring more traffic to West Palm and the Town of Palm Beach. Add in Presidential visits and a malfunctioning Flagler bridge is a formula for unimaginable gridlock in the Town of Palm Beach.
Stay tuned - this is a developing story...
25 breakdowns in its first 11 months: What happened to the new Flagler Bridge? $(Palm Beach Post)
By Joe Capozzi - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
By: R. Michael Brown, Civic Association Communication Director -- Across the Caribbean, in the Gulf of Mexico, and along the Florida East Coast, including beaches in Palm Beach, a stinky invasion is happening.
Known as sargassum seaweed, the thick plant has overtaken beaches in South Florida in recent weeks and has lined numerous Caribbean island coastlines for even longer, according to a report from the University of Miami. The seaweed isn't just smelly – it's blocking out light for organisms that need it and can mess with the ecosystem, said Dr. Lew Gramer, scientist at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies.
Palm Beach Photos Courtesy of: Dragana Connaughton
The seaweed is showing up in places where it was hardly seen before the first sighting in 2011, but these blooms have returned every year since, Science Magazine said. It's having far-reaching impacts, forcing the government of Barbados to declare an emergency and forcing one of Antigua's key hotels to close until October, the Antigua News Room reported.
Lessons have been learned since 2011, however. Removal techniques have improved and experts in the islands have written management guidelines. In Barbados, for example, the heavy equipment grabs used to load sugar cane onto trucks have proved good at picking up sargassum without removing sand from beaches.
The blooms smell awful, resembling rotten eggs in the mid-day Florida heat.
In the Town of Palm Beach, the shorebreak and weed line hasn’t been overwhelming yet like in Miami Beach. The policy is to leave most of the seaweed undisturbed on the beach because it’s good for the environment and helps keep sand on the beach. Midtown Beach has a spotted coating of the weed because of the rake-tractor that cleans the beach and buries much of the plants..
On the north end however, a solid 6 to 18 inch thick by 10 to 12 foot wide weedline is at the hightide waterline. Big, wide, 25 to 75 yard long sargassum mats are floating offshore.
As more than 1,000 square miles of the seaweed invade Florida's beaches, scientists are trying to figure out why these blooms have become such a regular occurrence, but only since 2011. Right now, all they have is "educated speculation," University of South Florida oceanographer Chuanmin Hu told Science Magazine.
While the smell can be off-putting and the beachings are thick in some areas, experts say the plant is not harmful to humans.
According to Dr. Gramer, here's what we know according to Dr. Gramer University :
"Evidence suggests that it is actually the result of ‘movement’ from elsewhere, rather than of ‘growth’ in place. Beaching events of sargassum have been reported in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Florida over several of the past few years, including 2011-2012, 2014-2015, and now 2018."
"Prior to 2011, we are not aware of any such region-wide reports of sargassum beaching in the Caribbean. The source of these mass beachings has been a subject of research: One recent study uses satellite data and ocean and wind models to show that these events are the immediate result of sargassum accumulation in the equatorial Atlantic—in particular, in the west, along the border with the southeastern Caribbean."
"Further research suggests, though, that the original mass beaching events in 2011 actually did ultimately come from the Sargasso Sea. They were the result of a large-scale anomaly in the winds over the Atlantic, including the Sargasso Sea, in 2009-2010. These winds pushed the surface waters of the Sargasso Sea in unusual ways, and may have set the table for all of these future mass accumulations in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Florida, northeastern South America, and western Africa."
Photo: Miami Beach
"If sargassum mats accumulate near shore, they can block light from reaching light-dependent organisms attached to the bottom beneath them, including local seagrasses and corals."
"If the sargassum stays, the microorganisms that decompose it will consume oxygen and nutrients from the water, depriving local organisms of those resources. sargassum mats can also serve as ‘life rafts,’ bringing organisms from distant places in the ocean and introducing them to local waters. This has the potential to cause problems with local fish and bottom-dwelling plants and animals. Finally, some research suggests that there are also some potential benefits from sargassum beaching, including the stabilization of beach sand when it decomposes."
"Sargassum is not toxic. As it begins to decompose on beaches, however, along with its inhabitants (small crustaceans, turtles, fish, and other sea life), it may be unpleasant to wade or swim through, or even to be near. Sargassum mats can also accumulate surface-floating debris, which may have its own dangers."
"If you do wade through accumulated sargassum to swim, do so carefully. Being around decaying sargassum may increase local populations of biting or other nuisance insects as well. And always pay attention to advisories from local, state, and other authorities about potential health hazards when heading out to any beach."
How long will this last?
“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. However, based on past years’ experiences, we may expect sargassum to continue beaching into 2019. And of course... if past is prolog, it may recur in future years, too."