By Tim O’Meilia
Thirty-odd years ago, a barely teen-aged Geoff Pugh and his brother would climb down to the rocks at the bottom of the north jetty of the Boynton Inlet and spear fish until a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy shooed them away.
Other days they would cast nets for sheepshead or whatever was running that time of year, always keeping an eye out for the deputy.
“But the next time he came out in a boat through the inlet,” said an all-grown-up Pugh, now a town commissioner in Ocean Ridge. The deputy didn’t take them to any juvenile detention center. “It was a different time. He took us to the north end of Lantana and made us walk home.”
That same grown-up Geoff Pugh and officials from nearby coastal towns, along with Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, clipped a red ribbon with golden scissors June 16 to officially christen the latest incarnation of the first fixed sand transfer plant built in the world (in 1937).
Never mind that for 18 months the new plant has already been spritzing sand slurped from a pit on the north side of the inlet — officially known as the South Lake Worth Inlet — and spitting it out 700 feet south of the inlet.
What’s important to fishermen and beach-goers is that the refurbished north and south jetties — now outfitted with breakaway deck panels in case of a ferocious hurricane — are sporting new concrete decks and guardrails and 200 new concrete piles to support the north jetty. The jetties opened in May.
All of which earned a puzzled look from the suntanned and shirtless 10-year-old who padded barefoot through the ceremony — fishing pole in hand — to his favorite casting spot on the north jetty.
County officials had hoped to keep one of the jetties open for fishing while the other was under construction but delays forced both to be closed most of last year. Beach access remained open although parking was reduced as well.
12 years in the works
Aside from the new plant, duded up with a Mizneresque barrel tile roof and a Palm Beach sand-colored hue, the nearly $8 million project includes the updates of the two jetties and a new 200-foot seawall for Beer Can Island — now known by the more upscale appellation of Bird Island — on the Lake Worth Lagoon side of the inlet. Included are native plantings along the north jetty and along the Bird Island seawall.
“It’s important for navigation, for improving the jetties and for a better quality of life for our residents,” said Abrams, whose district includes the inlet and Ocean Inlet Park.
The project, in the works for 12 years, was needed because the transfer plant was more than 40 years old and no longer repairable, the jetties needed work and the Bird Island seawall was failing, said Tracy Logue, the county’s project manager.
Both jetties were fitted with new decks atop the old. The Bird Island seawall was entirely replaced and the sand transfer plant was built with 18-inch thick concrete walls, hurricane-impact windows and submarine-style doors to keep nor’easters outside.
A small pump was added inside to siphon off storm water during bad weather. A 450 horsepower electric pump replaces the old diesel model. Although it’s more efficient, it’s not designed to pump more than the previous 200 cubic yards per hour capacity of the old pump.
“It’s 100 percent quieter,” Logue said. The noise was long a bugaboo for nearby Manalapan residents.
Inlet affects sand drift
The man-made inlet was dug in 1927, not for navigation purposes, but to flush the Lake Worth Lagoon, which was becoming rapidly polluted. But the inlet did what all man-made inlets do: allowed sand to accumulate north of the inlet, to shoal in the inlet itself and to inhibit the natural north-to-south flow of sand to beaches south of the inlet. Erosion became a problem.
The world’s first fixed sand transfer plant in 1937 was the solution. Repaired several times, the plant was replaced in 1967. Meanwhile Bird Island was created in the 1950s from sand dredged from both the inlet and the lagoon.
The plant will spew 80,000 to 100,000 cubic yards a year through its 14-inch pipe onto eroded Ocean Ridge beaches, a deal negotiated with Manalapan, which feared losing too much sand.
That’s enough sand to fill a football field more than 17½ feet high.
“It’s built like a lighthouse. We hope it lasts another 50 or 60 years,” said Dan Bates of the county’s environmental resources management department.
“The only problem is the pipe isn’t long enough to go all the way to South Palm Beach,” joked South Palm Beach Mayor Donald Clayman.
South Lake Worth Sand Transfer Plant
By the numbers:
Location: Ocean Inlet Park
Sand Transfer Plant built: 1937, rebuilt 1967, rebuilt 2011 at cost of $2.6 million
Ocean Inlet Park parking spaces: 152 spaces
Jetties rebuilt at a cost of $2.8 million: North jetty, 760 feet, 200 concrete piles added; south jetty, 415 feet, a few concrete piles added
Discharge point: 700 feet south of inlet
Discharge pipe: 14-inch diameter
Discharge capacity: 200 cubic yards per hour
Sand pumped: 80,000-100,000 cubic yards annually
Bird Island seawall: 200 feet; cost $1.9 million
Vegetation: more than 20,000 salt-tolerant plants moved or added
Total cost: $7.9 million
Source: Palm Beach County Department of Environmental Resources Management