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Our Town with William Kelly: Palm Beach council to eye port master plan

During its meeting Tuesday, the Town Council is expected to put a spotlight on the Port of Palm Beach’s redraft of its strategic master plan.

Town officials have long been concerned about a possible expansion in the scope of operations at the neighboring port, including past proposals to deepen or widen the Lake Worth Inlet to make it easier for commercial ships to move in and out of the port.

The port, along with assistance from its consultant, Moffat & Nichol, completed its redraft of its strategic master plan on June 3. A final public meeting on the plan was held on June 27. A 30-day public comment period ends July 27.

As part of a discussion scheduled for 11 a.m. on Tuesday, town staff will seek guidance from the council for the possible submittal of town comment on the proposed master plan.

“The Town of Palm Beach has a strong interest in the current actions and the future goals and objectives of the Port of Palm Beach as their activities have a direct impact on the livelihood of our residents,” Public Works Director Paul Brazil wrote in a June 30 memo to Mayor Danielle Moore and the council.

In his memo, Brazil noted that deepening and widening of the inlet was not explicitly mentioned in the master plan. The port did, however, reaffirm its commitment to working with the town to ensure that all beach-compatible sand dredged from the inlet is placed on town beaches. The plan also states the port’s intent to work closely with all neighboring municipalities regarding all projects.

Brazil said staff will continue to monitor the port because of ongoing concerns about a possible expansion.

“Any commitment to accommodate larger ships in the future inherently raises inlet deepening and widening concerns,” he wrote.

The Port of Palm Beach is the fourth busiest container port among Florida’s 14 deep-water ports and the 18th busiest in the continental United States. The port’s strategic plan is a forward-looking document focusing on economic and infrastructure development and the improvement of intermodal transportation facilities, according to the port’s website.

Brazil wrote that the port master plan does not address a City of Riviera Beach proposal to establish a permanent, managed mooring field for boaters in the Lake Worth Lagoon. The mooring field would be divided into northern and southern segments.

The southern portion, which could hold up to 100 vessels, would be 500 feet offshore from Palm Beach’s North End. Moore has said Palm Beach strongly opposes the mooring field plan, mainly because of concerns about excessive marine traffic and security for town residents.

Riviera Beach has said the mooring field is needed to manage derelict vessels in the lagoon. It has applied for environmental permits from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that are required to establish the mooring field. Brazil said the town will continue to monitor developments.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the council will:

+ Consider approval of a nearly $15 million contract with Hedrick Brothers Construction for the renovation of the North Fire Station.

+ Hear a report from Reinaldo Diaz, Lake Worth Waterkeeper, at 12 p.m. on the status of the Lake Worth watershed.

Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting is one of three council gatherings set for next week. The panel will meet Wednesday for development reviews and on Thursday to consider Town Manager Kirk Blouin’s proposed 2023-24 town budget.

All three meetings begin at 9:30 a.m. in the public meeting chambers at Town Hall.

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