Years of hypocrisy and an unfair imbalance over the construction and extension of State Road 7 have left residents in the western communities of Palm Beach County feeling frustrated and alienated. It’s time for this injustice to end.
The extension of State Road 7 from Okeechobee Boulevard north to Northlake Boulevard has been on the state books since the 1940s. The Florida Department of Transportation still owns the right-of-way on the original range line.
In 1992, Palm Beach County approved the Ibis Golf and Country Club on Northlake Boulevard in West Palm Beach. As part of the condition of approval, Ibis dedicated one mile of roadway along its eastern boundaries for the future connection of State Road 7.
During Ibis’ development, 363.3 pristine jurisdictional wetland acres were destroyed.
Around 2005, the Palm Beach County Commission offered a compromise on the construction of State Road 7 by investing $18 million to build a road from Okeechobee Boulevard north to Persimmon Boulevard. Land was swapped, creating the Pond Cypress Natural Area and allowing the State Road 7 connection to bend to the west around the water catchment area along the eastern borders of Royal Palm Beach and the Acreage.
FDOT labeled the above described connection as “Corridor Alternative 3.” The only other viable option was not to build the road because of opposition from the Ibis community, which has 3,000 residents.
The western communities representing Royal Palm Beach, Wellington, Loxahatchee Groves and the Acreage are home to over 173,000 residents, according to the 2010 census. The State Road 7 extension now dumps traffic directly into the Acreage’s residential roads.
The Acreage is home to 40,000 residents and lacks adequate roadways to safely evacuate its community or to provide natural traffic flows for those traveling to work and home.
In 2010, Jeri Muoio, an Ibis resident, became mayor of West Palm Beach and was extremely active in squashing construction of State Road 7’s extension to Northlake. At the July 2011 Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting in Palm Beach County, Muoio asked the MPO board to ignore agreements from almost a quarter of decade ago and to oppose any connection to the one-mile road connection already constructed along IBIS eastern boundaries. Muoio also expressed concerns about the integrity of the water quality in the cities’ water catchment area.
In a letter to the editor published in The Palm Beach Post on Aug. 19, 2011, the mayor said her city’s utility department “serves approximately 300,000 people daily.” However, the South Florida Water Management District permit only allows the city to serve about 130,000 residents daily. Muoio also said the water catchment area serves to “recharge the surficial aquifer.”
On Aug. 22, 2011, West Palm Beach was referred to the water management district’s enforcement division for non-compliance with its water use for over-pumping its well fields. Link to Consent Order.
Ibis built Traditions Golf Course and began irrigating in 1998 without a permit. Ibis received a $14,300.00 fine and began operating under a permit in 2008.Link to Consent Order.
West Palm Beach, the mayor and city officials have also expressed concern about “vehicle turnover” along the existing State Road 7 extension. What is most interesting is that the current extension has been constructed to be environmentally compatible. This includes high fencing, protection from flying debris and a guardrail preventing vehicles from crashing through the fence.
On the water catchment’s northern border near Ibis, there is a 5-foot-high, flimsy fence that allows vehicles to crash through on a regular basis. I have yet to see Ibis or West Palm Beach officials advocate for better protection along the Northlake Boulevard corridor.
West Palm Beach officials have gathered additional residents along the Okeechobee Boulevard corridor to their cause, including those living in Andros Isles, Baywinds and Riverwalk. These developments also received their developers’ approval by the county with the conditions of extending both Roebuck and Jog roads. Some West Palm Beach officials have used the same scare tactics about concerns with the integrity of the water catchment area if these roads were to be built.
It should be noted that Ibis residents travel through the Acreage along the State Road 7 corridor to spend their money, including at the Mall at Wellington Green, which also received its approval based on the extension of State Road 7. The western communities are not asking for State Road 7 to be built “through” Ibis’ neighborhoods but to connect outside of the community’s eastern border per its developer’s agreement.
The Acreage took a leap of faith for the much-needed road, and the Indian Trail Improvement District permitted connections at both Citrus Grove and Persimmon Boulevard with the promise that the future construction of State Road 7 would prevail.
The Acreage is the only community carrying the full responsibility for a state road that will serve almost 250,000 people. It is time for other communities, especially those that agreed to construction as a condition of development, to accept their responsibilities. State Road 7 is a shared responsibility by all.
Palm Beach County has invested another $5.3 million into the future extension of State Road 7 from Persimmon Boulevard north to 60th Street. This will leave the remaining four miles to the state to fund and build. Funding is currently in place. FDOT has been waiting patiently for the environmental impact study to hold its final public hearing.
FDOT received the study in January without noting any significant environmental impacts from the extension and construction of State Road 7. The final public hearing will take place on Wednesday, March 21, at the Palm Beach Expo Center beginning at 5:30 p.m.