More fun on tap as cities plan to link our waterways
Aplan to link the Intracoastal Waterway with a landlocked string of lakes could open the floodgates for fun and economic opportunity in Palm Beach County, officials say.
The plan calls for building a boatlift that would open access from the Intracoastal to the Chain of Lakes, a network of lakes spanning from Delray Beach to West Palm Beach.
The number of cities supporting the project has ballooned to 16 in recent weeks.
Boaters, kayakers, paddleboarders and other outdoor enthusiasts would be able to trek between the Intracoastal’s salt water and the lakes’ freshwater ecosystems. And businesses along the water, such as hotels and restaurants, could see more customers.
Dean Ernst, 38, who owns PaddleAway Sports, a paddleboarding and kayak rental company in Boynton Beach, said a new passageway could mean lots more sightseeing on the water.
“In the canals and the lakes, you’ll see alligators and snakes hanging out on the banks or sometimes swimming in the water,” Ernst said. In the Intracoastal, “you’re bound to see sea turtles, manatees, sometimes a dolphin or stingray or a shark. It’s a different world.”
About 80 percent of registered boats in the county are the right size to use the boatlift, which would be situated at Spillway Park, on a canal that divides Lake Worth from West Palm Beach. The boats can be no longer than 23.5 feet, and no more than 5.5 feet above the waterline.
In addition to the boatlift, a pier would be built. That would let those with canoes, kayaks and paddleboards walk between both waterways. The pier will also accommodate anglers, said Lake Clarke Shores town administrator, Dan Clark.
“All in all, we did whatever we could to make sure this project had a little something for everyone,” he said.
The boatlift would consist of 2-foot-wide canvas straps that hold a variety of boat builds, such as pontoons, Boston Whalers and vessels from Chris-Craft.
Boaters would drive their vessel into the straps, which would attach to a crane that would lift the boat from the water and carry it over roughly 15 to 30 feet of dirt to the water on the other side, he said.
To ensure safety, boat drivers likely will have to get out of their boats and walk across the fishing pier to the other side, he said.
Properties along the Intracoastal are known for their value, and the connection would make lands surrounding the lakes more attractive, spurring development, said Bob Shalhoub, a Lake Clarke Shores council member who has spearheaded the project.
According to a government-funded study, property values could increase by millions of dollars.
“This would be the biggest economic boom that’s hit central Palm Beach County in decades,” Shalhoub said.
The five lakes make up more than 23 miles of freshwater just west of Interstate 95. They are: Pine Lake, Lake Clarke, Lake Osborne, Lake Eden and Lake Ida.
Now that studies and engineering plans are completed, officials hope to make the project a reality.
Lake Clarke Shores wants the county to take full responsibility of the project and become the designated applicant for all the required permits, Shalhoub said.
The permitting process is a lengthy one that could take about two years, and must go through all the agencies that have responsibility along the canal, he said.
The project itself would cost about $5.5 million to secure the permits and build the boatlift.
“All the municipalities on the Chain of Lakes have a vested interest in the success of this,” he said.
Many of those are among 16 municipalities that have pledged support for the project.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner said he supports the project, and wants the commission to move forward with the permitting and become the governmental entity for the project.
It would encourage developers to invest in land prime for revival, he said.
“These areas of the county needed a catalyst to increase property values for the homes on the lakes,” he said. “There’s a lot of reasons why this project makes sense.”
The project has garnered support from many entities, such as the Palm Beach County League of Cities, South Florida Water Management District and Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council.
Fifteen municipalities had endorsed the concept, including Lake Worth, West Palm Beach and all the municipalities on the Chain of Lakes, according to Shalhoub. Most recently, Boynton Beach commissioners unanimously endorsed the project.
“Thanks for being No. 16,” Shalhoub said at the Tuesday commission meeting where the city passed a resolution supporting the plan.
Boynton Mayor Steven Grant said the link would allow boaters to frequent Boynton’s waterway restaurants, such as Two Georges, Banana Boat and Prime Catch.
Brooke Baitinger, Sun Sentinel