The Village of Wellington will lend its support to the Western Communities Council as it pushes for the State Road 7 extension to Northlake Blvd., Wellington Village Council members decided last week.
At a meeting Nov. 26, council members agreed to give Vice Mayor Howard Coates — who chairs the Western Communities Council — the ability to offer Wellington’s support for the extension.
Gina Rascati, with the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce’s Governmental Affairs Committee, told council members that the debate over the SR 7 extension is still an active issue.
“We’ve made a lot of progress on this issue,” she said. “It has been a unifying issue for the western communities.”
Currently the road needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a construction permit. Deputy Village Manager John Bonde noted that other agencies at a federal level can weigh in on the permit, and currently it is being hindered by environmental concerns.
“But it has been said by many that those concerns can be mitigated as they are on other roads, like Alligator Alley, which runs through protected wetlands,” Bonde explained. “It can be done successfully without endangering the water supply.”
Coates noted that the issue is being opposed by West Palm Beach and the Ibis Golf & Country Club community — located near the proposed extension — where West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio is a resident.
“West Palm Beach is very aggressively opposing this,” Coates said. “They have expended several hundred thousand dollars at the federal level lobbying against this.”
He hopes that the Western Communities Council would agree to push back. “We better step up and do what we have to do, or we won’t get what we want,” Coates said.
He said he was not asking Wellington for financial support just yet, but wanted the green light to raise the issue at the next Western Communities Council meeting and tell members that Wellington remains strongly behind the extension.
“I’m not asking for a commitment of any specific dollars,” he said. “I’m asking for a reaffirmation that this council supports the connection.”
Councilman Matt Willhite said he wants to make sure all environmental issues are addressed, but supports the connection.
He noted that the connection was planned before many of the communities located near the road — which have been annexed into West Palm Beach — were built.
He suggested that Coates get local businesses involved.
“I would bet that businesses like Aldi, which decided to relocate to our area, were planning on this connection being finished,” he said. “I’d like to see you incorporate not only the municipalities, but also the businesses that this would benefit, in your efforts.”
Councilman John Greene said he was in support, noting that there was no financial risk to Wellington at the moment. “I think it’s about being a good neighbor,” he said.
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig agreed, but wanted to be sure other communities jumped on board. “I don’t want to go toe-to-toe with West Palm Beach alone,” she said.
Gerwig noted that it was an issue of access and safety for the area.
“We are not in an evacuation zone, but it doesn’t mean we won’t need to leave if there’s an emergency,” she said. “If you’re trying to get out of town, that road would be important. This is the sort of thing we need to stand up for.”
Council members agreed unanimously to allow Coates to give Wellington’s support for the extension. Coates said he plans to bring up the issue at the next meeting of the Western Communities Council and would come back before the council with any further requests.