The Port of Palm Beach is a bustling commercial hub that’s home to 25 businesses, but along with the obvious heavy-duty equipment, ships and barges that come with being the state’s fourth-busiest container port, officials say there is an environmentally conscious side that isn’t as readily apparent.
While dredging projects needed to maintain the port basin for ships to safely come in and out have drawn opposition through the years, they say the port’s efforts to exceed environmental requirements have gone mostly unnoticed. In particular, efforts to move sensitive corals, recycling building materials and treating storm-water run-off.
Next step: Replacing light bulbs with LED lights.
Port officials like to say that the port was environmentally friendly before most people even knew what that meant. Commissioner Blair Ciklin said recently that even in the old days when Florida Power & Light brought oil tankers in, the port put a containment boom around them just in case, but no spills occurred.
An initiative that began in 2013 focuses on preserving coral. More than 600 corals have been harvested in the waters off the port and moved to Palm Beach’s offshore coral nursery.
As part of the rebuilding of Slip 3 and Berth 17, the port was required to move all of the coral more than 10 centimeters in diameter, said Carl Baker, director of planning and development. That would have resulted in the move of 250 corals.
“We went down to three centimeters. We went smaller than required and relocated a total of 602,” Baker said. The port’s moving and monitoring costs were approximately $50,000.
Other projects have included installing 137 manatee fenders to keep the animals from being squeezed between a ship and a seawall, and onshore electrical power boxes for smaller ships so they can turn off their fume-spewing generators.
When the former Port Executive Plaza, originally the 1960s-era Bazaar International, was torn down, the rubble wasn’t taken to a landfill. Instead, it was recycled as base rock for the entire south side of the port when it was rebuilt.
Metal removed during the rebuilding of Slip 3 this past year was shipped by port tenant Stonerock Shipping, to a recycling plant in Turkey, where it was melted down and made into new products.
The last two ships to arrive at the port and unload steel rebar brought rebar from the same factory where the scrap metal was sent, Baker said.
Baker gives a lot of the credit to Tom Lundeen, who has served as the port’s engineer for 18 years, and also as deputy director for the past 11, and is leaving to take another job.
Lundeen, a scuba diver since 1978, says he dives on weekends whenever he gets the chance. He has also completed more than 300 inspection dives for the port.
“Whenever possible, we try to double the treatment requirement for the storm-water runoff. The port is the last ‘stop’ for the storm water before it enters the Lake Worth Lagoon and Atlantic Ocean. We are just trying to do our part,” Lundeen said, adding that the efforts have always been supported by the port commission, consulting engineering firm CH2M Hill, and the port’s executive directors and commission.
Lundeen estimates the drainage system improvements have cost $10 million to $15 million in the past 18 years.
“Not so long ago, the port looked a lot different than it does today. The storm-water runoff discharged directly into the Lake Worth Lagoon. There was little or no treatment of the storm water. There were large changes of grade which made it difficult to move cargo and passengers efficiently. In my opinion, the Port wasn’t a very good steward of the environment and we, along with our tenants, were growing rapidly. That was in 1997,” Lundeen said.
When the $25 million Skypass Bridge project was being permitted in 1998, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was in charge of the process. Inger Hansen FDEP permitting specialist assigned to the port told Lundeen, “The port is a mess how do we fix this?
“Inger answered her own question, and the answer was, ‘the same way you eat an elephant, one bite at a time,’” Lundeen recalls.
“We were one of the first ports to obtain a Master Drainage Plan permit,” Lundeen said. “Now it is common practice for all ports and marinas. By the way, our Master Drainage Plan is still a work in progress. The Port received an award from FDEP for our storm-water initiatives.
Other projects are just starting, such as replacing the 100-foot high mast lights with LEDs.
“Replacing those giant bulbs with LEDs does a number of things. Obviously, they use a lot less electricity. LED lights are very directional. There isn’t a lot of spillage out to the side,” Baker said.
Even though the port is outside the sea turtle zone, port officials want to avoid lighting up the sky. Yet, the lights have to meet OSHA and U.S. Coast Guard and other requirements as workers are loading ships at night.
“It keeps people across the Intracoastal happier if we are not lighting up their backyards,” Baker said.