Our Town with William Kelly: Riviera Beach moving forward with mooring field plan

William Kelly  |  Our Town  |  Port of Palm Beach  |  March 1, 2023

The City of Riviera Beach held the first public presentation Monday of its plan to establish a permanent, managed mooring field for boaters in Lake Worth Lagoon.

Riviera Beach proposes to divide the field into north and south segments. The southern portion, which could hold 100 vessels, would be 500 feet offshore from Palm Beach’s far North End, officials said. It would extend from just south of the Port of Palm Beach turning basin southward to a point just north of Rybovich Marina.

The northern part, which could hold 43 boats, would be set up in an area north of Peanut Island, south of the Blue Heron Bridge and west of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Last summer, Riviera Beach appeared to back away from the plan after Mayor Danielle Moore and other Palm Beach officials strongly objected to the stationing of so many vessels beside the town’s northern doorstep.

But Riviera Beach officials said Monday they are seeking permission from FDEP and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the project.

Moore made it clear Tuesday that Palm Beach’s position remains the same. “The town will continue to vehemently oppose the mooring plan due primarily to concerns regarding excessive marine traffic and security for our residents,” she said.

A mooring field is a legally defined area within a body of water, established by a local ordinance so a government can regulate activities within it. Boaters can rent buoys and tie up their boats and, in some cases, live aboard them.

John Sprague, a project consultant for Riviera Beach, said the mooring field will be environmentally beneficial and help address the problem of derelict or abandoned vessels in the Lake Worth Lagoon while providing a revenue stream for the city.

Mooring fields are an effective way to prevent sewage and garbage dumping in the lagoon while protecting seagrass from damage caused by the bottom dragging of anchor chains, he said.

Palm Beach County, like the rest of South Florida, is a major destination for boaters. Many are from the northeastern United States and cannot afford to place the vessels in storage during the winter months, so they bring them south and anchor them in the coastal waterways where they damage the seagrasses that are a food source for the manatees, Sprague said.

Many are not well maintained and eventually sink or break free and damage other property. Removing the derelict vessels is an expensive headache for the city, Sprague said.

Under the plan, the city would provide a sewage pump-out boat, a garbage collection boat, an additional marine police boat, and a shuttle boat to reduce the use of dinghies for transportation between the shore and the mooring field.

Vessels would have to be registered and owners who want to anchor without paying for use of the mooring field would have go elsewhere in the lagoon.

Sprague said the mooring field would be located over state-owned submerged land bordered by the Palm Beach Channel to the east and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west. Local governments do not have jurisdiction there, he said.

Riviera Beach has had the project in the works since 2018. The city received a $75,000 grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District to study the mooring field concept. It has applied for required environmental permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. FDEP has requested additional information from the city, and a public notice is pending from both agencies, Sprague said.

Riviera Beach City Manager Jonathan Evans encouraged the audience of about 200 people, gathered at the Riviera Beach Marina Event Center, to “look at this from a solution-based perspective.” Evans said the project is “not a done deal … there are significant conversations to be had in front of the policy makers …’’

Public comments were mixed, with some supporting the plan and others voicing objections or asking for more information.

Keith Beaty, president of the Save Our Inlet Coalition and a member of the Palm Beach Civic Association’s Executive and Port of Palm Beach/Peanut Island committees, suggested Riviera Beach examine other options.

“If there’s a problem, let’s look at all the solutions,” Beaty said. “A mooring field may not be the best solution.”

Beaty added, “I’m afraid you’ll build a house too big for your budget. What happens if it goes under?”

Evans said the city’s marina, which he said generates an annual profit of $1 million, would cover the costs of the mooring field (each buoy would cost the city $4,000-$4,500), including the additional personnel needed to operate it.

Ryan Nagel, whose family business has been on the water for decades, said the mooring field as designed has too many moorings and he disputed the city’s contention that it would be set back 500 feet from his property.

“Why not just make it an environmental habitat and not allow people to anchor in that area?” Nagel asked. “I feel like ecotourism should be the focus here in Riviera Beach.”

Brad Gary, a resident of Palm Beach, said mooring systems have a 50 percent failure rate over 20 years, according to Acteon.

Gary said waves in the lagoon have been known to reach eight feet in height and that the mooring field would not be able to withstand such a beating.

“These chains do fracture,” he said. Damage to seagrass is a serious problem “but the boat that gets hung in your front yard is serious, too.”

Robert Holuba, chairman of the Civic Association’s Port of Palm Beach/Peanut Island Committee, said Wednesday that the mooring field “is a very interesting concept that benefits the entire lagoon.”

But he questioned whether Riviera Beach has the experience and funding necessary to take on management of a mooring field in addition to its marina.

Holuba suggested Riviera Beach partner with Palm Beach County to manage the mooring field because boating activity in the lagoon and efforts to regulate it impact not only Riviera Beach but Palm Beach, Palm Beach Shores and West Palm Beach.

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