Palm Beach Mayor Danielle Moore said the town strongly opposes the Port of Palm Beach’s plans for a major expansion.
Moore said at Thursday’s Town Council meeting that Palm Beach will reach out to neighboring communities in search of allies to help fight the expansion effort. One of those communities, Palm Beach Shores on nearby Singer Island, has already joined forces with the town.
A draft of the port’s 20-year master plan calls for deepening the Port of Palm Beach Inlet where ships move through. Port officials say the existing infrastructure of the port limits cargo growth and cruise ship operations.
Moore said she and Town Manager Kirk Blouin met with a port consultant last year to learn about the plans and to register the town’s opposition.
“I’m not sure it was a fruitful discussion,” Moore said. “Every plan they had we found offensive and not acceptable.”
But Moore said the port’s consultant didn’t appear to her to be interested in the town’s opinion.
“It seemed to us as if they were merely informing us what they intend to do, which is not what we felt was the most conducive way to get everybody on the same page,” she said. “It’s a battle we are going to have to fight, and we will.”
In an interview later Thursday, Moore said any expansion of the port, whether it be for cruise ships or cargo, has the potential to adversely affect residents of Palm Beach’s North End.
“It could be noise, pollution coming off the boats – you’ve got a myriad of things that could happen,” she said.
The expansion also would adversely affect the environment, including seagrasses, and the local ecotourism industry, Moore said.
Moore said she called Palm Beach Shores Mayor Alan Fiers Thursday and that he expressed his opposition to the expansion plan.
In an interview, Fiers said Palm Beach Shores “adamantly opposes any widening, deepening or changing of the Palm Beach Inlet.”
Widening the inlet requires hydraulic blasting which can cause structural damage to surrounding houses and buildings, Fiers said.
He said the Port of Palm Beach is too small, and the turning basin around Peanut Island is too tight, to accommodate the large container vessels that the port wishes to attract.
“There is no reason for this port to think they can compete with Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale or Miami, who have natural egresses and access to their port areas, as opposed to cuts,” Fiers said. “This [Port of Palm Beach] is a manmade port and manmade channel.”
Palm Beach Shores joined Palm Beach and other allies in preventing the port from deepening and widening the inlet about 10 years ago. Fiers said his town is just as determined this time around.
Palm Beach Shores and Palm Beach have scheduled a joint meeting with the port and its consultant, Moffett & Nichol, on Oct. 19 to discuss the current plan, he said.
“We’ll make our position known then, and go from there,” Fiers said. “We’ll be pretty adamant about it.”
The port consultant has put together a three-phase master strategic plan that would require the port to buy surrounding property to increase its size, expand the current cargo terminal for operations and storage and deepen the channel.
No budget or cost benefit analysis has been presented. Environmental and traffic studies still must be done.
Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay said the town needs to reassemble the old coalition, including the local “eco-economy,” such as dive boats, snorkelers and other recreational interests, that successfully prevented the port’s last expansion attempt in 2014.
“It’s important, when they start rumbling like this, to get ahead of the curve,” she said.
Robert Holuba, chairman of the Palm Beach Civic Association’s Port of Palm Beach/Peanut Island Committee, said the port’s tenants do not require a deeper or wider channel or turning basin to conduct their operations.
“Their current tenants don’t need what their master plan is proposing,” Holuba said. “I don’t see [major tenants] Florida Crystals or Tropical Shipping going away, and I don’t see [the port’s] land getting any larger.”
He said the port is deep in debt from infrastructure investments over the last 20 years, including the cruise terminal and office building.
“They have no reserves to do any of this,” Holuba said. “They need to get funded by the federal government. We will fight it the same way we did nine years ago when we created a coalition of folks who opposed it.”