Our Town with William Kelly: Former mayor Gail Coniglio among applicants for vacant port commission seat

William Kelly  |  Our Town  |  Port of Palm Beach  |  December 13, 2022

Port of Palm Beach commissioners are expected to appoint on Thursday a commissioner to fill the seat vacated last month by Katherine Waldron.
Waldron was elected Nov. 8 to represent District 93 of the Florida House of Representatives. Her last meeting with the port commission was Oct. 22. There are two years remaining in her four-year term.

On Oct. 28, the commission published a public notice inviting letters of interest from qualified individuals to fill Waldron’s Group 2 seat. Ten people responded, including former Palm Beach mayor Gail Coniglio.

The appointment is on the agenda for Thursday’s commission meeting, which begins at 4 p.m. in the building at One East 11th Street, Suite 600, in Riviera Beach.

Observers say the vacancy presents an opportunity for a resident from one of the communities surrounding the port to have a representative on the commission.

A North End resident, Coniglio retired in 2021 after 10 years as mayor and is now chair of Palm Beach’s Planning and Zoning Commission. She could not be reached to comment for this story.

Mayor Danielle Moore said the town would like to see a Palm Beach resident appointed to a port commission seat.

“Gail is so knowledgeable about the history of the port from when she was on the council and when she was mayor,” Moore said Tuesday. “She is eminently qualified and would be an amazing addition.”

Michael Pucillo, vice chairman of the Palm Beach Civic Association, worked side by side with Coniglio when she was mayor and Pucillo was a member and president of the Town Council.

“Gail was always very thoughtful and thorough in her analysis of any issue and fair to both sides,” Pucillo said.

Keith Beaty, who is a member of the Civic Association’s Executive Committee and of its Port of Palm Beach/Peanut Island Committee, said the communities around the port have a strong interest in what happens there.

“The port is a very important part of Palm Beach County and its economy,” Beaty said. “It’s also important in other ways in that it has a direct impact on surrounding communities through its operations, ship traffic, maintenance and improvements to the port facilities, including the turning basin and the inlet. The surrounding communities should have a strong voice in the operation of the port due to the direct impact those operations have on those communities.”

Sand that is dredged from the port inlet, to maintain the navigation channel, is periodically deposited on or near Palm Beach’s north shore at no cost to the town. Beaty said that agreement, struck by the port, Palm Beach and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is a prime example of how the port can have a positive impact on a neighboring community.

But there can also be negative impacts, local officials have said. Palm Beach Shores, on the south end of Singer Island across the port inlet from Palm Beach’s northern tip, joined with Palm Beach in the past to oppose the port’s attempts to widen and deepen the inlet so it can accommodate larger ships and more cargo. Moore cited environmental concerns and adverse impacts to residents for her decision to fight the expansion plan, which the port says has been shelved.

“What happens at the port, and particularly in the inlet, is of significant importance to Palm Beach Shores,” said Alan Fiers, mayor of Palm Beach Shores.

A recent storm pushed more than five feet of sand from the inlet onto a town walkway. Fiers said it took the town three weeks to clean up the mess. “If the inlet were deeper and wider, the problem would be worse,” he said.


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