NEW: West Palm agrees to Grassy Waters cleanup near Ibis

Updated Jan 18, 2018
View of a sign announcing the future extension of SR 7 along Sandhill Way E. near Ibis Golf and Country Club Friday Sept. 11, 2015 in West Palm Beach. (Bill Ingram / Palm Beach Post)

The city of West Palm Beach and South Florida Water Management District have agreed to a cleanup plan for pollution from Ibis Golf & Country Club into the city’s main water supply, Grassy Waters Preserve, averting a multimillion-dollar re-engineering of the community’s lakes and filtration area but requiring lower-priced fixes and a promise that the city will remove nuisance vegetation.

The dispute over Ibis fertilizer contamination was sparked by the city’s legal fight against the proposed expansion of State Road 7.

In fighting the road, the city’s legal team argued several months ago that the 4.4-mile road extension would spill runoff into the adjacent preserve and as an example pointed to tainted outflow from Ibis’ lake system.

That prompted the Water District to order the Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District, which oversees the Ibis lakes, and the city, which oversees the Ibis Preserve filtration area they flow into, to come up with plans to keep more dirty runoff from flowing into Grassy Waters and causing overgrowth. West Palm Beach fought the orders.

The city agreed to remove undesirable vegetation near the outfall but was allowed to do so under a schedule that takes into account “city budget constraints and other management priorities in Grassy Waters.” The city also agreed to update its fertilizer ordinance and continue efforts with homeowner associations to inform citizens about proper use of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

“It’s a sensible resolution for the taxpayers of the district and the city. The district is pleased the city will accept a sensible solution in lieu of expensive litigation,” said Brian Accardo, district general counsel.

West Palm Beach hailed the agreement, in a release calling it “a favorable legal outcome in its effort to protect the environmental quality of Grassy Waters Preserve.”

Deputy City Administrator Scott Kelly said the city does restoration projects in the preserve anyway and had no problem doing another. In any event, the city contends that Northern is responsible for the pollution, he said.

The city is continuing its multimillion-dollar legal fight against the road, a stretch along the eastern border of the 23-square-mile preserve that will link Okeechobee and Northlake Boulevards. The state and county have been fighting for the road extension, in light of anticipated growth of communities to the west.

The city also continues to fight Northern’s lake cleanup plan, though it was approved by the district.

While the city has been fighting its district-imposed cleanup order, Northern is nearly done complying with its own. That has included eliminating use of herbicide to kill lake growth and installing aerators to increase oxygen and decrease phosphorus levels in the water. That work should be done by the end of the month.

In dueling press releases, the city and district differedon the impact of this week’s agreement.

City release:

“In effect, the SFWMD is now withdrawing a September 2016 administrative complaint against the city which incorrectly alleged that the city is responsible for the pollution from Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District’s lakes (located in the Ibis neighborhood) which has produced adverse environmental impacts into Grassy Waters Preserve.”

SFWMD’s version:

“In effect, the city agreed to participate in protection and restoration of Grassy Waters, which was the goal of the September 2016 administrative complaint against the City, and which correctly alleged the City’s shared responsibility for stormwater discharges from the Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District’s lakes (located in the Ibis neighborhood).”