Our Town with William Kelly: Palm Beach hires attorney to fight Riviera Beach mooring field plan

William Kelly  |  Our Town  |  Port of Palm Beach  |  March 29, 2023

Palm Beach is stepping up its opposition to a Riviera Beach plan to establish a managed mooring field in the Lake Worth Lagoon, only 500 feet from Palm Beach’s North End.

Riviera Beach appeared to have dropped the plan last summer after Mayor Danielle Moore and the Town Council objected that the mooring field would be within Palm Beach’s jurisdiction but provide no benefit to the town.

But Palm Beach officials learned in February that Riviera Beach had in December resubmitted an application for a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Riviera Beach is also seeking a federal permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Both permits are required to make the project a reality.

The council decided at its March 14 meeting to hire attorney Cindy Laquidara, with the Akerman law firm in Jacksonville, to represent it against the Riviera Beach project.

The council also asked Moore to send a second letter of objection to the Department of Environmental Protection (Moore sent an initial letter last year to the Florida DEP and the Army Corps).

In her second letter on March 20, addressed to Jason Andreotta, director of the DEP’s Southeast District, Moore wrote that “the Town of Palm Beach intends to challenge any state or federal permit issuance of the project as it is currently designed.”

Riviera Beach is seeking permits from the DEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to establish the mooring field in two sections. One would be north of Peanut Island with a 43-boat capacity. The other would be about 500 feet from Palm Beach’s North End lakeshore, roughly between Arabian and Garden roads, Public Works Director Paul Brazil told the council. Plans call for it to accommodate 100 boats.

Riviera Beach says the mooring field will be environmentally beneficial and help address the problem of derelict vessels in the lagoon while providing a revenue stream for the city.

But Palm Beach officials are adamantly opposed to the idea of stationing so many boats so close to the town’s North End residents. Town Manager Kirk Blouin has said the mooring field would result in complaints and would be a challenge for law enforcement. He also expressed doubt over whether Riviera Beach would deploy the resources to handle it.

“We don’t believe they have a legal right to file a permit for an area that legally is under our jurisdiction,” Blouin said at the March 14 council meeting.

Town Councilman Lew Crampton was less diplomatic. “This is an invasion of our territory,” he said. “We need to kick some ass on this. We cannot allow our space to be invaded.”

Town officials haven’t publicly stated precisely how far into the lagoon they contend the town’s jurisdictional limit extends.

Riviera Beach appears to view the jurisdiction matter differently. John Sprague, Riviera Beach’s project consultant, said at a public meeting in Riviera Beach in February that 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.

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 tied up their boats and, in some cases, live aboard them.

Under its plan, Riviera Beach 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 to go elsewhere in the lagoon.

Moore said the thing she finds most disconcerting is that the town learned of the plan last year from a media report instead of being notified directly by Riviera Beach officials.

“I will continue to fight this mooring field and continue to bring it up at every [Palm Beach County] League of Cities meeting until I’m blue in the face,” Moore said.

Councilman Ted Cooney said Riviera Beach also failed to notify the town that it had resubmitted its application in December and would be hosting a public meeting in February.

“That raises my level of ire even more,” he said.

Councilwoman Julie Araskog said public outreach is important to the town’s opposition effort.
“We must get the word out to all the property owners along the lake in that area,” she said.

Brazil said it’s still early in the federal and state permit review process. There will be a public comment period before the DEP decides whether to issue a permit; on the federal side, the review process is even slower, he said.

Brazil and Blouin both said that state and federal approval is not certain.

“This is permittable if the town was silent on it,” Brazil said. “Other mooring fields have been rejected because of local opposition.”


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