The Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce is backing out of its past leadership role in support of the State Road 7 extension to Northlake Blvd., and it appears the torch will be passed to the Western Communities Council.
The issue came up in a report by Councilman David Swift at the Nov. 7 meeting of the Royal Palm Beach Village Council.
Swift said he and Village Manager Ray Liggins had met Nov. 6 with Gina Rascati, head of the chamber’s Governmental Affairs Committee, to discuss how the village can assist the chamber in promoting the SR 7 extension.
The City of West Palm Beach has been trying to block the extension, which would run along the east side of the Ibis Golf & Country Club in West Palm Beach, where WPB Mayor Jeri Muoio resides, and along the west side of the Grassy Waters Preserve.
West Palm Beach officials have raised environmental concerns, alleging that the SR 7 extension would interfere with endangered bird species and pose the risk of hazardous material getting into the preserve, which is headwater for the city’s water supply.
“I thought we had a very productive meeting,” Swift said. “[Rascati] explained that because of other commitments, former [RPB] Councilwoman Martha Webster was no longer able to be the standard-bearer for this cause, and that Gina in her role as chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee did not have enough time in her busy schedule to lend to this very important project. Ray and I recommended to Gina that this was a project that probably should be considered by the Western Communities Council because clearly it benefits our area in terms of the local economy.”
Rascati confirmed that the chamber’s Governmental Affairs Committee is not taking the same role that it did when Webster was on the committee and took on a strong advocacy role. She noted that she had attended the last Western Communities Council meeting to suggest that it hire a consultant, but the council did not have a quorum.
“The Governmental Affairs Committee would like to suggest to the members of the Western Communities Council that they consider hiring an expert to help advance the State Road 7 connection to Northlake,” Rascati told the Town-Crier on Tuesday.
“We did have a discussion of what hiring an expert means,” Swift said. “I scheduled a meeting with the chairman of the Western Communities Council, [Wellington] Vice Mayor Howard Coates, to discuss this issue just to see if we can get discussion of the State Road 7 issue on their agenda to see what we can do with that project. I think it’s a good project that we should support.”
Laurel Bennett, a member of the chamber’s Governmental Affairs Committee, suggested that interested parties have a strategic economic plan that accounts for traffic and how much money it will save western residents, as well as provisions in place to protect the environment from the impact of the SR 7 extension.
Bennett also suggested producing a plat of all the homes that were built out west that were supposed to connect to State Road 7 that are not connected to it yet, which could be used to illustrate the importance of the road both economically and as an evacuation route in the event of a disaster. Bennett added that they should point out the efforts that have been made to mitigate the taking of environmentally sensitive areas to build the extension.
“If you put those things in place and put that on the table, you should have a productive meeting,” Bennett said, adding that there might be local developers interested in funding the lobbyist.
Swift said he had been having problems attending meetings of the Western Communities Council, which meets on the third Thursday of each month, the same as the Royal Palm Beach Village Council.
“I did get that changed, so it’s no longer an issue,” Swift said.
The next meeting of the Western Communities Council is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 11 in Loxahatchee Groves.