breaking news

Ex-Riviera Beach manager sues city over his firing

Could battle over road extension cost Ibis homeowners millions?


Highlights

Cleaning tainted sediment from Ibis retention ponds could cost an estimated $40 million.

West Palm Beach’s efforts to prevent an extension of State Road 7 near the Ibis Golf & Country Club could cost Ibis’ 1,800 homeowners more than $40 million in pollution clean-up costs, and possibly lead to costs for other communities that feed storm water into Grassy Waters Preserve.

That’s an estimate by officials of the Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District, a water management agency that would be responsible for cleaning Ibis’ lakes and charging homeowners. In addition, the city itself could be on the hook for additional millions, to clean the 300-plus-acre Ibis retention marsh that filters the outflow from the lakes and which, in turn, pours into Grassy Waters.

In arguing its case against the State Road 7 extension, did West Palm put itself in a bind?

The entire cleanup, if it comes to pass, comes under the heading of unintended consequences.

The city is fighting the four-mile extension on a number of legal fronts, asserting that road runoff would contaminate the adjacent nature preserve, the city of 100,000’s main water supply.

As proof, it stated in public filings that herbicide- and fertilizer-laden runoff from Ibis already is contaminating parts of the 23-square-mile preserve, near where the road would go. That prompted the South Florida Water Management District, the agency that approved the road, to order the city and Northern to clean up the system.

The city, in turn, is fighting the road permit and the cleanup order, saying Northern should clean up the lakes at the same time that it cleans the retention marsh, known as Ibis Preserve.

South Florida Water Management District’s general counsel says that West Palm Beach just wants to stop the road and brought up the Ibis contamination issue as a delay strategy. If the city’s concern was contamination, it would already be working to clean up its own contamination, not worrying about the State Road 7 project, which has land buffers and other environmental protections built into its plans, attorney John Fumero said.

Northern’s executive director, for his part, said his agency stands ready and willing to clean up the community’s lake system and work with the city but so far has no evidence its runoff is polluted. Even so, to try to head off a prolonged and expensive legal fight, Northern has submitted cleanup plans to the Water Management District for review and has received initial approvals, Executive Director O’Neal Bardin Jr. said this week.

If testing showed that nutrients from fertilizers and and copper sulfate from herbicides were floating up from lake sediments and into the water system, removing the sediment could cost $30 million to $40 million, Bardin estimated — as much as $22,000 per homeowner. But no testing has been done to determine whether that’s happening, he said, and photos show no signs of exotic or other unwanted vegetation inside Ibis that might indicate a water quality problem.

The city’s contamination claim, made in legal proceedings against the South Florida Water Management District, blind-sided his agency, which maintains the lakes, Bardin said. As a result of the claim, Northern has hired a limnologist, or inland water scientist, to study the Ibis lakes for signs of contamination, he said.

Up to this point, Northern thought Ibis, its lakes and filtration marsh looked pristine, he said. If the city had called about a problem, Northern would have addressed it, he added. “We’ve been doing everything we thought was reasonable and appropriate.”

He added that the city, by contrast, has been holding the level of Grassy Waters so high that it flows over a concrete control weir and exchanges water with what’s in the Ibis filtration area.

On Thursday, Northern’s board of directors authorized their attorney, Brian Joslyn, to enter the legal fray when he deems it necessary.

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio declined comment on the legal battle, reiterating her sincerity about protecting Grassy Waters but saying it would be inappropriate to try the case in the press.

A message left for the Ibis property owners association president was not returned. Joslyn said “they’re well aware” of the situation. “They’re very concerned and are interested in the cheapest possible resolution,” he told the Northern board.

West Palm Beach has spent nearly $2.1 million during the past five years in legal and consulting fees to fight the roadway, which would enable cars to travel from Okeechobee Boulevard to Northlake Boulevard, as part of a larger, 8.5-mile, $60 million project.

County, state and regional agencies spent decades deciding upon a route along the western edge of Grassy Waters as a reliever for north-south traffic near Royal Palm Beach, The Acreage and surrounding communities. Thousands more homes are planned off Northlake, where rush hour gridlock already is common.

Northern officials say the legal battle could lead to contamination testing at other communities that have outflows into Grassy Waters, for comparison — opening the possibility that they, too, would face clean-up costs. These would include Riverwalk, Baywinds and Andros Isle, off Okeechobee Boulevard, and Ironhorse Country Club, off North Jog Road.

Assistant City Administrator Scott Kelly said these developments only pump into Grassy Waters during times of extreme rainfall and would be unlikely to contaminate the preserve.

But these communities and others throughout Florida use the same kind of storm water filtration system, Bardin said. “They’re all over the place.”

Attorney Joslyn told Northern’s board that it’s in their best financial interest to avoid a legal fray but he wasn’t optimistic.

“We want to do a Kumbaya but we’re not getting a response from the city,” he said. “It is possible we’re going to come up with a constructive, cooperative settlement. It’s also possible I’m going to be eaten by a dragon.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

BREAKING: PBSO says laser 'blinds' helicopter pilots during Lake Worth blackout
BREAKING: PBSO says laser 'blinds' helicopter pilots during Lake Worth blackout

A 33-year-old woman is facing a felony charge for allegedly pointing a green laser at the cockpit of a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office helicopter that was patrolling Lake Worth early Thursday. A PBSO deputy and his co-pilot were surveying Lake Worth during the six-hour, citywide power outage when city resident Jacqueline Robledo...
Ex-Riviera Beach manager sues city over his firing
Ex-Riviera Beach manager sues city over his firing

Fired city manager Jonathan Evans has sued Riviera Beach and three of its council members, alleging they axed him last September, after six months on the job, because he sought to crack down on sexual misconduct by staffers and improper spending by the council. In a suit filed late last month in federal court in West Palm Beach, Evans alleged the city...
What is selfitis? 5 things to know about the obsessive selfie disorder 
What is selfitis? 5 things to know about the obsessive selfie disorder 

The term "selfitis" may have started off as a hoax back in 2014, but now psychologists have warned it's a genuine mental health issue. Researchers form the Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom and Thiagarajar School of Management in India actually investigated the social media phenomenon, leading them to create...
NEW: Man stabbed to death at West Palm senior home, medical examiner says
NEW: Man stabbed to death at West Palm senior home, medical examiner says

As rescue crews wheeled a bloodied 65-year-old out of a senior-living home April 2, the man pointed toward an apartment door.   That’s where the person who stabbed him in the face lived, Mathew Stevens told West Palm Beach authorities.  Stevens died from those stab wounds nearly three weeks later. The Palm Beach...
Suit: Jail keeps teens in solitary for months without care, education
Suit: Jail keeps teens in solitary for months without care, education

One young inmate in solitary confinement at the Palm Beach County jail hallucinated, staring at the blank wall of his cell, thinking he was watching a television show, a federal lawsuit filed Thursday alleges. A 16-year-old got his teeth knocked out by deputies after flooding his cell with toilet water when his telephone privileges were cut...
More Stories