A three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal on Aug. 8 rescinded the South Florida Water Management District permit that approved the extension.
The judges found that an administrative law judge who backed the permit made procedural errors that denied the city a fair hearing and misinterpreted the applicable water quality standards. The panel sent the matter back for a new administrative law hearing.
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The city has been fighting the extension for several years, arguing that road runoff would threaten the city’s main water supply, the 23-square-mile preserve. The proposed route runs for about 2 miles along the western perimeter of the preserve, next to Ibis Golf & Country Club.
The county and Florida Department of Transportation have been pushing for the project, as a north-south traffic reliever for the increasingly congested section of the county near Royal Palm Beach, The Acreage and Palm Beach Gardens.
“We think this is good,” West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said Thursday.
Without the water district permit, the project also can’t get a crucial approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Muoio said.
“All over the state, people are dealing with algae blooms and water quality issues and we have one of the pristine water bodies in the state. If we let that nutrient level rise and discharge into Grassy Waters, we’re going to be talking about algae blooms in our water supply. That’s why we’re fighting so hard to keep it clean.”
Lisa Interlandi, executive director of the Everglades Law Center, also cheered the ruling. “We are getting to the point where we just can’t afford to build more roads through our wetlands and water supplies,” she said. “We agree with the court’s ruling and urge the Florida Department of Transportation and the County to abandon this effort and move forward with an alternative that protects our natural resources.”
The Florida Wildlife Federation, Audubon Society of the Everglades, Sierra Club, Conservancy of Southwest Florida, and National Wildlife Federation also filed a brief on the city’s behalf.
Randy Smith, spokesman for the water management district, said its legal department is evaluating the district’s options.
The ruling is the second victory in as many months for the city, which in June signed a surprise deal with the Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District to block the county and state from draining runoff into the preserve.
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