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Our Town with William Kelly: Town approves another $100,000 toward search for water supply

The Town Council on Tuesday approved $100,000 to pay a town consultant for “post-study support services” related to a water supply feasibility study the consultant performed for the town.

The town hired consultant Kimley-Horn & Associates in December 2019 to study the cost and feasibility of future water supply options available to the town after its water agreement with the City of West Palm Beach expires in 2029. The study cost $316,380.

Town Manager Kirk Blouin said Wednesday the study is not final and that staff and the council has not yet received anything from Kimley-Horn other than a presentation. Once the report is in town hands, it will be made available to the public, he said.

In the study, Kimley-Horn was asked to explore options including signing a new agreement with West Palm Beach or engaging with another water provider such as Palm Beach County or Lake Worth Beach. Other alternatives include development of a town-owned water supply and treatment facility or a hybrid of alternatives, town officials have said.

“Multiple options were explored and ultimately results and data were provided to the town to assist in the decision-making process,” Kimley-Horn wrote in a recent memo to the town.

Mayor Danielle Moore and council members said Tuesday that the additional $100,000 is needed to obtain all the necessary information before deciding what to do.

“Unless the council has all the information to make the right decision, we would be making it in a vacuum,” Moore said. “It is money well spent.”

Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay said determining the future water source may be the most important decision this council makes.

“This is chump change, to get the right answer,” Lindsay said. “It’s critical that we do this.”

Council President Margaret Zeidman it’s a matter of due diligence. “We need very clear specifics on what we would incur with each option,” she said.

At the request of Public Works Director Paul Brazil, the council authorized Blouin to consult with potential partners to find out if there is a willingness to partner with the town in a future water supply arrangement.

“It isn’t for negotiation,” Brazil said of the consultation. “It’s just to determine their willingness to do certain things.”

Kimley-Horn is not authorized to speak with other parties on behalf of the town, Brazil said.

Brazil said he hopes the town will have the information as early as February. The sooner, the better, he said.

Town officials have said switching to a different provider would require new infrastructure that would take time to design and build.

“If there is going to be substantive change that includes infrastructure [changes], we’re going to need to know very soon,” Brazil said.

The town needs to inform West Palm Beach of its intentions by 2027, Zeidman said.

Town officials have avoided publicly discussing details of the alternatives, saying they don’t want to tip the town’s hand before negotiations begin.

In its memo, Kimley-Horn said it doesn’t know the exact nature of the support services that may be requested by the town.

But Kimley-Horn said it expects those services could include further refinement of alternatives described in the report; hydraulic modeling to determine infrastructure needs to support additional alternatives not previously studied; development of additional alternatives not previously studied and cost opinions for those alternatives; attendance at meetings to provide information and answer questions; presentations to the town and other stakeholders regarding its findings; and performance of tasks to provide engineering data that may support the town’s decision-making process.