Why are we still debating the need for the extension of State Road 7 to Northlake Blvd.? Why is the City of West Palm Beach — at great cost — not willing to honor previous agreements? Does extending SR 7 pose a real threat to the drinking water of the City of West Palm Beach?
The City of West Palm Beach is fighting the extension of SR 7 because of a small minority of influential people living in Ibis who do not want SR 7 in their backyards. The extension of SR 7 does not pose a real threat to drinking water.
SR 7 constructed to Northlake Blvd. is a road that the City of West Palm Beach commissioners agreed to for the right to build a tax base in excess of $2.5 billion around their water catchment area. Their plan was to annex and subsequently develop the area in order to increase revenues to invest in their downtown. The following statement was made by a city commissioner at a City of West Palm Beach commission meeting in January 1994: “This is our future tax base, we can take that money and go back and rehab our coastal city.”
Without SR 7, north-south and east-west traffic connectivity for residents will be compromised; Royal Palm Beach Blvd., Seminole Pratt Whitney Rd. and the turnpike will have thousands more cars on them every day, emergency evacuation and access for Acreage residents will be limited and regional traffic will continue to travel through Acreage residential streets. The Florida Department of Transportation explored dozens of SR 7 alternatives and discussed them at public forums, resulting in the current alignment. It has been determined that SR 7 can be built, enhancing water recharge. The idea of constructing SR 7 was not a mistake 30 years ago, nor is it a mistake today.
If development adjacent to the West Palm Beach Water Catchment Area threatens its drinking water, would the City of West Palm Beach have developed more than 3,400 acres of suburban development, including 8,000 homes, four golf courses, commercial development, gas stations and 76 miles of roadways around its water catchment area, with most of the development able to discharge into the water catchment area? Would the City of West Palm Beach have changed the use of 16 acres of land from conservation on Okeechobee Blvd. to construct a fire station, school, commercial development and townhomes? Would the City of West Palm Beach have released a 450-foot conservation easement adjacent to the canal that conveys their drinking water from the water catchment area to the water plant and allow unpaved parking for 1,800 cars for spring training baseball? If the threat was real, the City of West Palm Beach would not have done these things. The threat is not real, nor is it real for the last three miles of roadway for SR 7.
The lake on the northeast corner of Australian Ave. and Banyan is where the City of West Palm Beach withdraws water to treat and distribute to water utility customers. The lake is protected from vehicles and trucks crashing into it. The lake on the west side of Australian is not protected, nor is there much of an attempt to protect the surface water drinking supply in the rest of the system. But somehow, more than 10 miles from the water plant, vehicles and trucks pose a threat that cannot be tolerated. The threat is not real across the street from the water plant, nor is it real more than 10 miles away.
West Palm Beach’s development around the water catchment area impacted more than 600 acres of wetlands. Permitting the impacts required preserving, restoring, creating or enhancing approximately 1,200 acres. The extension of SR 7 to Northlake has a direct wetland and surface water impact of 58 acres. Permitting the impacts requires the preserving, restoring, creating or enhancing approximately 270 acres.
Constructing the three miles of SR 7 adjacent to the water catchment area from 60th Street to Northlake Blvd. can be built without creating future economic, environmental and water supply catastrophes. The construction of the roadway will result in a roadway system that will better serve area residents and businesses, and not at an expense to the environment.
Fred Pinto, Mayor, Royal Palm Beach