Planned Riviera breakwaters under fire

ByWILLIE HOWARD
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, September 07, 2009

RIVIERA BEACH — Construction could start early next year on the $30 million Singer Island breakwater project - 11 limestone and granite structures placed in 12 feet of water to protect condominiums from beach-eroding waves.

But as the project wends its way through the final stages of the permitting process - it's awaiting biological opinions from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service - the Surfrider Foundation and sea-turtle advocates continue to raise objections to the mile-long series of wave-breaking structures that would be the largest of its kind in Florida.

Objections to the structures raised by the Palm Beach County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation include arguments that the breakwaters will:

  • Degrade the value of the beach for surfing, swimming and fishing.

  • Increase beach erosion south of the breakwaters.

  • Create a nautical hazard for boaters.

  • Impede sea turtle nesting and reduce the survival rate of sea turtle hatchlings.

    In a letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Steve Weiss, co-chairman of the Palm Beach County Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, also argues that the structures, to be placed about 300 feet apart, could increase the strength of rip currents, making the area more dangerous for swimmers.

    Weiss argues that money would be better invested moving sand around Jupiter Inlet because inlets on Florida's east coast cause erosion to beaches south of the inlets. He suggests using the $30 million for the breakwaters to develop a sand-bypass system for Jupiter Inlet. Both Lake Worth and Boynton inlets have sand-transfer plants that pump sand from the north to the south sides of the inlets.

    Sea turtle advocates also have expressed concerns.

    Debbie Sobel, president of the Sea Turtle Conservation League of Singer Island, said her volunteers record 1,000 to 1,200 sea turtle nests per season in the mile-long stretch of beach where the breakwaters are planned. The nests include those of leatherback, green and loggerhead sea turtles, all protected under the Endangered Species Act.

    Turtle hatchlings, when they hatch, swim in a frenzy toward the ocean, Sobel said. Newborn turtles use the direction of the waves to know which way to swim.

    "If the waves are blocked, they could be swimming in circles," Sobel said. "And who's going to be living in the breakwaters - predators."

    Palm Beach County environmental officials argue that the refraction of waves around the breakwaters will help baby sea turtles navigate between the structures and into the open ocean.

    County officials also note that the breakwaters will create more than 7 acres of habitat under the water, that they will stabilize the beaches where sea turtles nest and that they are more environmentally friendly than the alternative: sea walls.

    Twelve of the 17 condominiums in the breakwater area either have a sea wall, a permit for a sea wall or an application for a sea wall permit, said Michael Stahl, a senior environmental analyst for Palm Beach County's Department of Environmental Resources Management.

    "We're looking at 12 of 17 condos that will be one solid sea wall if this project isn't built," Stahl said.