Palm Beach County's new beach erosion fight reignites sea turtle concerns

It's sea turtles versus beach condos, Round Two.

One year ago, threats to endangered sea turtles helped sink Palm Beach County plans to build erosion-fighting rock walls offshore from shrinking beaches in front of condominium towers.

Now a new proposal has surfaced to use different shoreline structures to combat erosion without creating as many obstacles for newly hatched turtles trying to make it from sand to sea.

The County Commission on Tuesday considers pursuing the new erosion option.

Beachfront residents, worried about the ever-encroaching ocean and its potential threat to their homes, welcome the proposed erosion protections that could cost taxpayers countywide about $14 million for an initial one-mile stretch on Singer Island.

But environmentalists contend the plan creates too many risks for sea turtles already struggling to survive man-made hazards such as pollution, commercial fishing and beachfront development.

"We are just kind of banging our heads against the wall," said Greg Lyon, of the Palm Beach County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation environmental group. Lyon called the new erosion plan "a slight tweak to the same thing."

"This is once again a flawed approach," he said.

About two-thirds of Palm Beach County's 46 miles of beach is considered "critically eroded," according to state standards.

Last year, the county proposed about three miles of breakwaters starting on Singer Island, with the potential to expand to erosion-prone beaches in central and southern Palm Beach County.

The plan called for wave-dampening rock walls that would jut out of the ocean parallel to shore, positioned about 300 feet off the coast of eroded beaches.

It would have cost about $30 million to start with 11 rock walls stretched from John D. MacArthur Beach State Park to Ocean Reef Park.

Now, instead of breakwaters, the county proposes T-shaped structures perpendicular to shore, stretching about 100-250 feet from the beach and aimed at trapping some of the sand that waves would otherwise wash away to the south.

The're like those that have long been in place on beaches just south of the Boynton Inlet.

The idea is to prolong the benefits of the sand that the county periodically dredges up and pumps onto eroded beaches.

"They are not quite as effective as the breakwaters but … they have less potential impact on nesting sea turtles," said Daniel Bates, environmental director for the county's Environmental Resources Management department.

The county's new plan creates the same potential problems for sea turtles as the scrapped plan, Lyon said.

The county should refocus on bringing in sand to protect remaining beach dunes and waterfront residents need to get used to having a smaller beach, Lyon said.

It doesn't have to be turtles vs. people, said Miranne Wiegand, who lives in one of the Seawinds condominium towers on Singer Island.

Having bigger beaches gives turtles more room to nest, while protecting condominium properties from erosion, Wiegand said.

Also, supporters point out that using taxpayer money to fight erosion isn't just about making life better for condo owners, it also protects a key tourism attraction.


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