By Robert J. Holuba.
This Letter to the Editor ran in the Palm Beach Daily News on Sunday, June 9, 2013
Re: Palm Beach Inlet Environmental Impact Statement
The Palm Beach Civic Association is alarmed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would advocate a dredging project to dramatically expand the Port of Palm Beach without studying the impact of the increased traffic with larger ships.
The Civic Association, together with the Town of Palm Beach and former County Commissioner Karen Marcus, have fought long to preserve the Peanut Island area between the inlet and the Port of Palm Beach for public recreation.
Children swim and learn to sail off Peanut Island near the channel, but the recent Environmental Impact Statement makes no mention of the danger caused by an increased frequency of larger ships.
The study says ships will be 21 percent larger and specifies that petroleum tankers will be a major beneficiary of a wider and deeper channel. Residents realize petroleum was the dangerous cargo that the Exxon Valdez was carrying when it ruptured. But the Army Corps shows no concern for public safety and has no plan to safeguard our environment.
The Environmental Impact Statement is flawed because it only speaks to the impact of the dredging itself. The Army Corps made no effort to gauge the impact of the port expansion that dredging would allow.
The Port of Palm Beach’s ambitious expansion plans are contingent on dredging. But a much larger port is not mentioned in the inlet feasibility study, which is based only on current economic conditions. Seaports along the Atlantic Ocean all are preparing for more imports from Asia when the Panama Canal is widened. Inland seaports will allow the Port of Palm Beach to dramatically increase its volume of imports.
The Civic Association together with the Town of Palm Beach retained Coastal Systems International to review the Environmental Impact Statement on the Palm Beach Inlet. We also have three concerns from that study:
1) We object to the use of blasting to excavate a larger channel without further study. The report fails to evaluate whether the vibrations from blasting could damage nearby Palm Beach homes.
2) The simulated tests on the impact of ocean surge through a larger inlet during a storm fail to meet industry standards. We seek further assurance through reliable testing that flooding would not result.
3) This dredging project would reduce the frequency of inlet maintenance, according to the report. We are concerned whether less frequent maintenance could reduce the flow of sand south of the inlet and make upland properties more vulnerable to storm damage.
In summary, both the EIS and the feasibility study are insufficient. The full impact of what the dredging project would allow has not been addressed. An expanded industrial complex would not be compatible in an area that is primarily residential and preserved for public recreation.
Robert J. Holuba
Mr. Holuba is a Palm Beach Civic Association Director and chairman of the association’s Port Committee. His comments reflect the Civic Association’s position.