- 04 March 2009 | Environment
Administrative Law Judge Robert E. Meale ruled late yesterday that the Town of Palm Beach be denied a Joint Coastal Permit to nourish Reach 8.
One year ago in March 2008, the Surfrider Foundation, Snook Foundation, and three individuals filed suit against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for approving a Joint Coastal Permit for the Town of Palm Beach to dredge-and-fill Reach 8.
The Town of Palm Beach intervened on behalf of the DEP, and the City of Lake Worth and Eastern Surfing Association intervened in opposition of the project. The trial lasted three weeks, ending in October of last year.
Reach 8 is one of eleven reaches of beach within the County of Palm Beach. The Town of Palm Beach nourished Reach 7 two years ago costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Reach 7 caused substantial environmental harm to the local coastal resources and has already significantly eroded away.
The Town of Palm Beach was proposing more of the same in their attempt to dredge-and- fill Reach 8. Reach 8 extends 1.8 miles and includes beaches within the Town of Palm Beach and the City of Lake Worth.
The Town of Palm Beach proposed dredging offshore and filling in 700,000 cubic yards of fill material on Reach 8 directly burying seven acres of nearshore hardbottom reef.
The City of Lake Worth maintains a public park within Reach 8 and opted out of the Joint Coastal Permit due to the projects’ potential to harm their environmental resources and local economy dependent on them.
“This is a tremendous win for Florida’s Beaches,” said Chapter Chair Greg Lyon. “To our knowledge, this is the first time that any court in the US has flatly rejected the permitting of an approved dredge-and-fill project due primarily to the potential negative environmental impacts.”
The five petitioners proved the dredge-and-fill project would destroy the beach and coastal environment by directly burying reefs, killing marine life, including endangered seaturtles, and overall destabilizing fishing, diving, surfing and other valuable recreational uses of the area.
“The Judge clearly grasped the significance of the geological and biological coastal systems in this area and their rarity. His ruling focused extensively on the overwhelming data from numerous experts that supported the denial of this permit,” said attorney Jane West, whose firm Collins & West, P.A. represented the five petitioners.
Rob Young, Director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University and an expert witness in the case expressed admiration for the judge’s ruling. "Judge Meale took a very hard look at the numerical computer model used to predict where the nourishment sand would go, and he strongly criticized its use," Young said.
"This same model, GENESIS, is used all over the country for the design of beach nourishment projects. The Judge’s ruling is a serious indictment of that practice."
“We look forward to working with our experts and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to re-examine its policies on beach management and realize these dredge and fill projects can be detrimental to the coastal environment they are alleged to be protecting,” said Ericka Davanzo, Surfrider's Regional Manager in Florida.
Judge Meale’s ruling is an order of recommendation to Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Michael Sole, who will now have 45 days to issue the final order.