The idea of a boat-transfer system at the Lake Worth spillway that allow boaters to move from inland freshwater lakes and canals into the Lake Worth Lagoon and on to the ocean — a nexus some say would boost inland property values — is being floated by local officials.
The boat-transfer system at the S-155 water control structure, better known as the Lake Worth spillway, would be just east of Dixie Highway on the canal that separates West Palm Beach from Lake Worth. The feasibility is being studied by West Palm Beach, Lake Worth and Lake Clarke Shores.
It could be as simple as a marine forklift or as complex as a small lock system that would raise and lower boats to move them from the freshwater canal into the lower brackish estuary, and vice versa.
In addition to giving boaters in places such as Lake Clarke Shores access to the Intracoastal Waterway and the ocean, opening the freshwater network of lakes and canals to more boaters could spur redevelopment of commercial property along the inland freshwater canals, West Palm Beach Commissioner Shanon Materio said.
Materio, who represents the south end of West Palm Beach and owns a business in Lake Worth, said a boat-transfer system could be enhanced with a marina or another type of boating facility on city-owned land at 8111 S. Dixie Highway, the site of a former International House of Pancakes restaurant.
With area residents urging them on, city commissioners in 2012 agreed to buy the 7 acres for $2.9 million in hopes of selling it to a buyer who would redevelop it into a commercial anchor for the city’s south end. Before that, Walmart had considered building a grocery store there.
Materio said she envisions a golfer in Royal Palm Beach loading clubs into a small boat and running through the canal along Southern Boulevard to the West Palm Beach Golf Course — or entering the Lake Worth Lagoon and running south to the Lake Worth golf course.
“I’m very excited about it,” Materio said. “It could change life in a very good way.”
A boater entering the freshwater canal system at the spillway could run west into Lake Clarke or continue west in the West Palm Beach Canal as far as U.S. 441.
The same boater could run north to Pine Lake near Palm Beach International Airport or south through Lake Osborne in Lake Worth and Lake Ida in Delray Beach to the Broward County line, said Mike Baker, director of operations and maintenance for the Lake Worth Drainage District.
Only small boats — boats with low profiles — are able to use the freshwater canals because of low clearances at bridges and utility lines that run over canals. Larger boats with upper decks and fishing boats with T-tops and towers are screened out of the canal system by low clearances.
Lake Clarke Shores Councilman Tom Mayes Jr. said the boat-transfer system would improve property values in his town by providing ocean access to the owners of the 472 homes that front Lake Clarke and neighboring canals.
Officials from Lake Clarke Shores, Lake Worth, West Palm Beach, the South Florida Water Management District and the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County have been meeting to discuss the plan for the spillway.
“We haven’t heard anyone say ‘no,’” Mayes said. “The question has been where’s the money going to come from.”
State Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, said he would work in Tallahassee toget money for the boat-transfer system. Kerner, who grew up boating in Palm Beach County, called the proposal “one of the most exciting projects I’ve heard of in terms of economic development.”
Both the water management district and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would have to sign off on any boat transfer system at the water control structure, whose primary purpose is releasing inland water into the Lake Worth Lagoon for flood control.
During times of heavy rain when the spillway gates are releasing a lot of water, strong currents on the east side of the spillway would be hazardous to boaters, said Tommy Strowd, the water district’s assistant executive director for operations, maintenance and construction. But Strowd noted that navigation locks on the Kissimmee River are closed to boaters when the water flow is too strong and reopened when the current subsides.
“From a conceptual standpoint, we’ve indicated it’s feasible,” Strowd said. “We’re trying to investigate this to help the economy of the area and the boating interests.”
A boat transfer lift has been used in Juno Isles since the 1970s to move boats up to 26 feet from the community’s freshwater lake and canals into the Intracoastal Waterway, giving waterfront homeowners with boats access to waterfront restaurants, marinas and the ocean.
“The fact that I can go to the Bahamas from my house is a wonderful thing,” said Tom Mondik, president of the Juno Isles Boat Owners Association.
The Juno Isles system allows owners to lift their boats up with electric motors, then pull the boats on rollers along overhead support beams to either freshwater or saltwater sides of the canal.
Mondik said the boat lift allows him to enjoy the benefits of ocean access without paying for a more expensive house on the Intracoastal Waterway.
Lake Worth City Manager Michael Bornstein said the proposed boat-transfer system at the Lake Worth spillway could be located at Spillway Park, a popular fishing destination on the south side of the spillway that is owned by the water management district and maintained by the city.
“We’re very concerned about what happens there,” Bornstein said. “But if we can provide better access for our citizens and our fishermen, that’s something we might want to consider.”
Bornstein said boaters entering the Lake Worth Lagoon from neighborhoods along the inland canals and lakes could bring business to downtown Lake Worth. They could run their boats south from the spillway to the Snook Islands docks near downtown for an evening out — or for special events such as the popular Street Painting Festival held in February.