By Steve Plunkett
The Lake Wyman restoration project, dropped with a 4-1 vote by the Boca Raton City Council, could still be brought back to life.
“It’s never actually dead,” said Daniel Bates, the county’s deputy director of Environmental Resources Management. “If the city changes its position then we’ll do whatever we can to build it as quickly as we can.”
The council’s action, reversing an earlier decision and coming the same night the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District agreed to pay half the capital costs, surprised County Commissioner Steven Abrams. Abrams led the county entourage that first presented the Lake Wyman proposal last July.
“It’s disappointing,” Abrams said, noting that no one from the city told him the funding would be reconsidered. “This was a perfect opportunity for Boca Raton to get back its tax dollars from the county and the state.”
Dave Roach, executive director of the Florida Inland Navigation District, which approved $2.1 million in grants for the work, had looked forward to restoring the canoe trail in Rutherford Park and building a six-slip boat dock.
“Unfortunately it doesn’t appear any of these public improvements are going to happen,” he said.
The council agreed May 8 to partner with FIND and the county if the Beach and Park District matched the city’s costs. The Beach and Park District received its staff evaluation June 18 and approved a $225,000 grant to Boca Raton on June 26.
But the city was simultaneously withdrawing its support.
“What’s been good about the project all along is that there’s free money,” Mayor Susan Whelchel said. “What has troubled me about the project all along is that it really has not been in our control.”
The restoration would scoop out a spoil island FIND owns just east of Lake Wyman Park and create a 3.3-acre basin for seagrass to offset possible seagrass damage when the Intracoastal is dredged. Reopening Rutherford Park’s silted-in canoe trail would increase mangrove flushing and make the trail passable at low tide.
Eleven acres of Australian pines and Brazilian pepper would be removed from the spoil island and two smaller islands FIND owns.
A boardwalk would be lengthened and picnic and beach areas added along with an observation platform.
“Rutherford Park was a treasure when it was built, and it’s been allowed to fall apart,” resident Arlene Owens said before the council vote. “I’m highly in support of it for my kids, my grandkids and everybody else’s kids.”
Steve Reiss, who lives across the 14th Street canal from the park, said trucks hauling fill would at some points be only 15 feet from the water.
“There’s real liability if those truck drivers take a wrong turn because they’re going to be right on the edge,” Reiss said.
Bates said the county will continue to pursue a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, which will be valid for five years.
Roach said that would enable FIND to construct the seagrass basin by itself, though the agency has no immediate plans to do so.
“When we need to build it, we will build it,” he said, adding that his agency will need seagrass mitigation credits in the next five years to dredge the Intracoastal in northern Delray Beach.
Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie said the navigation district benefits the most from the restoration plan but would not cooperate with city requests to move an access road, dredge the 14th Street canal and pay for an independent study of tidal flushing.
“I’m hopeful that FIND will understand that the conditions that we asked for were not egregious,” she said.
Roach said the current grant can be extended to September 2014, but Bates said the extra year was included in the county’s self-imposed June 30 deadline.
While that date has passed, Bates said his department could look for other grants and even reapply to FIND in the next grant cycle if the city decides it wants the restoration.
“We’d certainly like to do the project,” he said.
Abrams recalled paddling in Rutherford Park in 1990 and said there was not much demand for the canoe trail at first. Since then, he said, city-owned shuffleboard courts have given way to skateboard areas as Boca Raton became more family-oriented.
“There’d be a lot of use for it now,” Abrams said.