Saturday, February 01, 2014

Palm Beach Aggregates, a blast from the past … by gimleteye

The excavation of the public interest by the rock mining industry in South Florida was the subject of a major federal lawsuit in the 1990's, eventually won by Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council. The battle was won. The war was lost to the Great Destroyers, who successfully chew up Everglades wetlands to further the aims of land speculators, suburban sprawl, highway construction, malls and more branches of failed banks (cf. US Century Bank) whose lobbyists work hand-in-glove with zoning and transit officials and county commissioners.

Not far away, in Palm Beach County, in the early 2000's a plan took hold to use a big rock mine for Everglades restoration purposes -- much to the dismay of environmentalists who have bitterly complained for decades that the answer to restoration was not artificial solutions but restoration of lands in sugar production to cleansing marshes.

Andy Reid at the Sun Sentinel takes another look at the reservoir called the L-8 in west Palm Beach, but spends only a brief sentence on the controversial origins of this property for "restoration" (leaving out the politics; of Jeb! Bush authorizing its purchase to reward wealthy campaign contributors, as one of his first acts as governor, establishing a precedent for land appraisal/purchase price that was outrageous then as it is now; on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars per acre for lands that had never sold for more than a few thousand.)

For the background on the Sun Sentinel story, read EOM in the archive section, or here specifically in 2009.

BTW, this deal did not just "oust" two Palm Beach county commissioners from office: it sent them to federal prison. Remember?

Revived Palm Beach County reservoir making progress

By Andy Reid, Sun Sentinel
Mon Dec 30 2013

The extended arm of a crane peeks above the lip of a nearly mile-wide hole, which reaches about 50 feet deep.
A slow parade of trucks and big-wheeled construction vehicles descends into the worksite below, pumping out water and spreading concrete at depths usually not reached in swampy, flat South Florida.

After years of delay, progress is being made on the $64 million project to get a reservoir west of Royal Palm Beach pumping water south to replenish the Everglades.

"Nobody appreciates the size until they see it," said Gregory Coffelt, principal engineer for the South Florida Water Management District. "It's pretty mind boggling."

While the water-storage portion of the reservoir was completed back in 2008, the pumps, levee upgrades and other infrastructure improvements needed to get water flowing were left undone - hampering the ability to put the reservoir and its water to use.

Now after years of budget delays that slowed construction and controversies that dogged the project, the district expects to have the reservoir fully operational by 2016.

The massive structure known as the L-8 reservoir was created from nearly 1,000 acres of former rock mines at Palm Beach Aggregates, on Southern Boulevard west of Royal Palm Beach.

Project backers contend that the area's unique geology - less porous than South Florida's usual below-ground limestone - makes it ideal for holding water.

The reservoir, which cost the South Florida Water Management District about $220 million, stretches for 2.8 miles north of Southern Boulevard and is nearly 1 mile wide.

It's 53-feet-deep and capable of holding 15 billion gallons of water. That's enough to cover 34,000 football fields with water one-foot deep, according to the water management district.

The reservoir was originally built to collect water that would be used to replenish the Loxahatchee River, to compensate for freshwater flows blocked though the years due to flood control for South Florida's development.

But a budget squeeze and other economic factors delayed construction of the pump station needed to make the reservoir fully operational. Also, controversies related to the reservoir and other Palm Beach Aggregates land dealings dogged the project.
Palm Beach Aggregates ended up reimbursing the district for a $2.4 million secret "success fee" that federal prosecutors contend was paid to an engineering consultant who suggested that the district approve the reservoir deal - without revealing he was a consultant for Palm Beach Aggregates.

That success fee and another Palm Beach Aggregates land deal were tied to separate scandals that eventually ousted two Palm Beach County commissioners.

Also, concerns have been raised about the elevated levels of chloride in the reservoir's water. Those chloride levels remain above state standards for freshwater, according to the district.

Water managers blame the elevated chloride levels on not having the big pumps to circulate water in and out of the reservoir. They say once construction is complete, water quality will improve.

"Over time the chloride levels have been going down," said Alan Shirkey, a district project manager overseeing the reservoir project. "Once these facilities are in place they are going to continue to go down and down and down."

Despite the past hurdles, a new Everglades restoration effort triggered renewed interest in completing the L-8 reservoir.
The state's new $880 million plan for meeting federal water quality standards includes sending most of the reservoir's water south, through stormwater treatment areas and then into northern reaches of the Everglades.

Another, smaller reservoir proposed to the north is now planned to store water needed for the Loxahatchee River.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can we please stop calling it "restoration" already? Restoration of this ecosystem is scientifically impossible. Most of the soil is gone through oxidation and erosion and the landscape throughout the Everglades is forever changed, never to go back to what it was. We need to focus on enhancement of what we have and trying to get the plumbing right for what is left of this once-great system. It can be great again, but in a different way, and certainly not "restored" as some want us to believe. There will always be problems that will never go away unless you undo over one hundred years of development and let nature reclaim those areas. How about it? Anyone believe we can turn Miami International Airport back into sawgrass prairie with tree islands?