At the Royal Palm Beach Village Council meeting on Sept. 15, Vice Mayor Jeff Hmara reported on the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting earlier that day, saying that completion of the State Road 7 extension to Northlake Blvd. remained the MPO’s No. 1 goal in its 2018-22 work plan.
Hmara, who is the village’s alternate member on the MPO, said completion of the SR 7 extension from 60th Street North to Northlake Blvd. has been an MPO priority for several years, but it has been so over the objections of the two West Palm Beach representatives who sit on the board.
West Palm Beach has been a vocal opponent of the SR 7 extension due to its decades-old road plan that runs on the west side of Ibis.
“There were two major actions this morning, and the most significant one to my way of thinking was the approval of the fiscal year 2018 to 2022 work plan,” Hmara said. “The priority list… becomes the basis for the Florida Department of Transportation’s work plan. That becomes construction in our area.”
Hmara pointed out that the village had recently sent out a letter to local media signed by Mayor Fred Pinto explaining why the council believes the extension is important, also posing a serious question whether the extension is a legitimate environmental threat, as stated by the City of West Palm Beach.
“I was prepared to provide copies to everybody and take them through a couple of the highlights,” he said. “Lo and behold, the members from West Palm Beach seemed to have acquiesced to the inevitable outcome of the votes, which have historically been two or three against, and everybody else in favor of maintaining the top priority as State Road 7.”
Hmara said the comments from the West Palm Beach representatives were very brief, so he decided not to agitate the situation and refrained from distributing copies of the letter.
“I think the recognition is that the MPO is not the environment with which to persuade people because over the years that hasn’t happened,” he said. “It has stayed number-one and will stay number-one until it’s completed.”
He pointed out that there is still an administrative law hearing underway brought by West Palm Beach challenging the construction of the SR 7 extension on environmental grounds that may be followed by an appeals process.
Last week, West Palm Beach representatives at that administrative hearing were put on the defensive when it was revealed during testimony that Ibis, which is inside the city’s borders, is discharging excessive nutrients such as phosphorus into the Grassy Waters Preserve, contributing to the growth of nuisance vegetation.
During the hearing, the city presented evidence that the sediment and nutrient problem was caused by a lack of routine maintenance in the Ibis community lakes, an issue that was previously unknown.
The Northern Palm Beach County Improvement District’s permit requires it to perform routine maintenance of the lakes. The administrative law judge suggested that the South Florida Water Management District take appropriate action to correct these issues.
As a result, the SFWMD issued two administrative complaints and orders for corrective action.
Hmara said he was encouraged that the MPO kept the SR 7 extension in the work plan with less resistance than before. “The good news is the money is in 2017,” he said. “We’ll see construction begin hopefully next year.”
Village Attorney Jennifer Ashton said the administrative law judge is expected to render an opinion within six weeks.
ABOVE: Vice Mayor Jeff Hmara.