WPB warns of long fight to block State Road 7

The controversial extension of State Road 7 in West Palm Beach dominated a Florida Department of Transportation public hearing Tuesday night in Fort Lauderdale.

The hearing, required under state law, dealt with the DOT’s five-year work program covering projects in the five counties in District 4 — Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River.

The hourlong hearing was held in Fort Lauderdale but was also broadcast at DOT offices in West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce as well as an online webinar.

Palm Beach County Engineer George Webb (L) and Royal Palm Beach councilman Jeff Hmarra wait for start of FDOT hearing to be broadcast in West Palm Beach.

Palm Beach County Engineer George Webb (L) and Royal Palm Beach councilman Jeff Hmara wait for start of FDOT hearing to be broadcast in West Palm Beach.

Of the dozens of projects in the district’s plan, only one generated comments – the 4-mile connection of State Road 7 from 60th Street North to Northlake Boulevard.

Three people attended the hearing in Fort Lauderdale and four attending in West Palm Beach.

Speaking in support of the project, from the West Palm office, were Royal Palm Beach councilman Jeff Hmara and Palm Beach County Engineer George Webb.

In Fort Lauderdale, a lawyer representing the city of West Palm Beach spoke against the project.

Roger Sims, a water resources and environmental expert with the law firm Holland & Knight, warned that the city will do everything it can to prevent the road from being built.

The city is worried the road will harm Grassy Waters Preserve, a 24-square-mile marsh that the city relies on for drinking water.

The county and its central-western communities want the road to help relieve traffic.

The DOT proposal earmarks $50 million for the construction of the extension for fiscal year 2017, which starts July 1, 2016 and ends June 30, 2017. That’s two years earlier than the current plan, but Sims said that doesn’t mean construction will start next year or the year after, if ever.

Roger Sims

Roger Sims

He said the city plans to lobby two key agencies to reject required permits – the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District.

“Moving money to fiscal year 2017 is really not realistic. There’s long way to go with permitting,’’ Sims said at the hearing.

“The city understands there are traffic issues and we’re not opposed to improving the traffic situation jn that part of the county. It’s that particular alignment that gives us a major cause for concern.’’

Sims said, “We would prefer to work with folks to resolve this but it is going to be our duty and responsibility to all of the citizens of the city and of the region and, for that matter, the country to protect this aquatic resource of national importance.

“We will exercise all legal rights and remedies…’’

Holland & Knight has billed the city about $130,000 since 2014 to fight State Road 7. That’s part of $900,000 the city has spent on outside lawyers since 2008 to fight SR 7 and two other roads near Grassy Waters Preserve.

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