At last week’s Royal Palm Beach Village Council meeting, Vice Mayor Dave Swift and Councilman Jeff Hmara reported about their recent trip to Tallahassee to lobby the state legislature for money to extend State Road 7 to Northlake Blvd., as well as other projects, including canal improvements.
“We were joined by our neighbors to the north and south, Indian Trail Improvement District [Supervisor] Michelle Damone, also Councilman Matt Willhite from Wellington, who were also up there doing the same thing in support of State Road 7,” Swift said at the March 5 meeting. “As you know, our county commissioner, Melissa McKinlay, strongly supports our position on State Road 7. Other county commissioners and the [Palm Beach] Metropolitan Planning Organization also support the project.”
In December, the MPO received bittersweet news that the project had been approved but that financing had been moved forward from 2016 to 2020 in anticipation of lawsuits from the City of West Palm Beach, which has been a staunch opponent of the road’s extension.
“In December, FDOT District 4 Secretary James Noth encouraged pushing the legislative process to find state money to try to get that in fiscal year 2017, which was the reason we went to Tallahassee,” Swift said. “We spent a full day speaking with our elected representatives, asking them to help us find state money to build the road. Almost in each instance — and this is very interesting — County Commissioner McKinlay or someone on her staff thoroughly briefed each legislator. They knew what our names were, what our issues were, and we got to work. She was very helpful.”
Swift said the majority of legislators they spoke with were supportive of the position taken by the western communities and the extension of SR 7 to Northlake. “Contingent on whatever legal challenges we encounter, they will try to find a road work plan in 2017,” he said.
Hmara added that they also talked to legislators about funding for canal cleaning.
“We have already taken the first step, which is identifying the canals and which ones have the largest amounts of debris,” he said. “It’s going to take quite a bit of money to do something about that. We were asking for a matching grant, and for the most part, I think that was reasonably well-received.”
Hmara pointed out, however, that water projects are important to many municipalities.
“Therefore, there are a lot more water projects than there is money available to support them, and the numbers offered up to support them are at least three times the number of projects and dollar value than the money available,” he said. “I guess it’s fair to say, don’t get your hopes up too high, but I think it was well received. Personally, I think we did a really good job of representing both issues.”
Hmara said the Tallahassee experience gave him a chance to step back and look at the village from other points of view.
“State Rep. Ben Albritton [R-District 56] was one of the representatives we talked to… and we got to talking about diversity in the community and yet the harmony that we experience,” Hmara said. “We got into a conversation about the size of the community and the makeup, the average income, and we wound up talking about our Diversity Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day… What’s interesting was he was impressed, I think, with our community. It was a good opportunity for us to step back and say, ‘You know? I think we’ve got a pretty good community. We have something to be proud of.’”