Dispute between West Palm marina, state could delay building of new Flagler bridge

A dispute between Palm Harbor Marina and the Florida Department of Transportation could delay construction of the new Flagler Memorial Bridge, which was set to begin in January or February.

Completing the new bridge, the northernmost of the three bridges connecting West Palm Beach and Palm Beach, was expected to take until December 2014.

But the Palm Harbor Marina, which is located just south of the existing bridge on land that subleases from the city of West Palm Beach, said the new bridge would impede boat traffic in and out of the marina.

Cheryl Chase, executive vice president of Chase Enterprises, the marina's parent company, said the marina "will seek millions of dollars worth of damage, which I believe we'll get," if the state goes ahead with construction of the bridge.

The problem, Chase said, is that the state doesn't want to erect a temporary bridge, like it did when it rebuilt the Royal Park Bridge, and then build the new bridge on the spot of the existing Flagler Memorial Bridge, built in 1938.

Instead, the state is planning to build the new bridge directly south of the existing bridge, so it will not interrupt vehicle traffic during construction.

That will put the new bridge just 106 feet from the northernmost point of the marina's dock. Chase said that will hinder boats trying to navigate between the bridge and the northern dock.

But FDOT project manager Jim Hughes said the U.S. Coast Guard's office has said it believes the bridge will be far enough away from the marina. A representative from the Coast Guard's office did not return a call for comment.

Chase also said the marina has an easement that the state would be impeding on.

"They will be taking our property without our permission," Chase said. "We have to be compensated appropriately for that taking."

Hughes, however, said the marina shouldn't have the easement to begin with. He said the easement was granted to the marina after a legal dispute with West Palm Beach in the early 2000s, but that the state had an easement that preceded Palm Harbor's. Hughes said the state was unaware of the West Palm Beach-Palm Harbor deal agreement until recently.

Chase said the new bridge should instead be moved just north of the existing bridge, but Hughes said there's a federally protected park on the Palm Beach side there.

The state cannot begin the $94 million construction project until it receives a permit from the South Florida Water Management District.

Sam Poole, former executive director of the water management district, is an attorney representing the marina.