By enactment of Public Law 110-229, Section 202 (http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-110publ229/pdf/PLAW-110publ229.pdf), The US Bureau of Land Management took possession of a tract of land in Jupiter, Florida, that was formerly owned by the US Coast Guard. A lighthouse, built in 1860, is the dominant feature on property bordered on the south by the Jupiter Lagoon, and on the east by the Indian River. The same law organized a group of entities in a partnership for the purpose of creating a management plan for that property. The law emphasizes public participation in the management process. Known as the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area (JILONA), the partnership is known as the JILONA Working Group and is comprised of representatives from 3 communities, Palm Beach County, the Coast Guard, the Loxahatchee River Historical Society, and BLM. The management plan was completed one year ago. All the partners signed off on the plan, including this statement:
Following analysis of public input and review by working group partners and permitting agencies, a shoreline stabilization design will be amended to this plan.
There has been no effort to include the public in the planning process since three “public” meetings that occurred in 2009. Despite efforts to secure an opportunity for public participation, members of the working group, including BLM, have steadfastly avoided any public involvement. The latest meeting of the JILONA Working Group was held on 10/26/11 at BLM offices in Tequesta, FL. There were no minutes taken. A series of observations follow:
When asked, Bruce Dawson, BLM Field Director, said the public would not be allowed to speak. Only after Tequesta Mayor Paterno threatened to leave the meeting did Dawson reverse his position. Public awareness/participation is being aggressively circumvented at every level.
Dawson claims BLM “solicitors” are reviewing the possibility that JILONA meetings violate Sunshine Laws and other regulations governing the activities of federal agencies but have not given an opinion.
It was revealed that a woman from Jupiter Inlet Colony (Tracy Siani) considers herself to be a member of the public. At the last meeting, she was provided a seat at the table and was allowed to speak at length in opposition to boater access. Two other members of the public and opponents of the plan were denied the opportunity to speak.
Dawson stated that the obligation to include public participation was fulfilled by 3 meetings held in 2009, that once the management plan was completed, the public can be excluded from further involvement. He has made two errors. 1) The law requires “full public participation.” 2) The management plan is incomplete. It calls for an addendum covering the management of Lot 17 (the site of Cato’s Bridge Beach) that has not yet been approved or included. The plan will not be complete until that addendum has been made a part of the plan.
BLM hired Palm Beach County Environmental Resources Management (ERM) to design a plan for beach restoration and stabilization in 2010. Rich Walesky, Department Director – ERM, delivered a document that effectively transfers management of the JILONA project from the Bureau of Land Management to ERM. From now on, ERM will schedule all future meetings of JILONA and establish the location and agenda for those meetings. ERM will take notes (not minutes) and keep a record of all that transpires. The contractor is now “running the show.” There were additional elements included in their documented plan. It was accepted by all participants. Walesky retires tomorrow. There was no discussion of who would run the meetings in his absence or if he will remain active.
Rich Walesky openly acknowledged that ERM takes intentional steps to hide their activities from the public. On JILONA, they plan to leave a buffer along Beach Road that will prevent observation of their restoration activities. He said that it’s the only way to keep the public from asking questions.
Walesky acknowledged that the suggested open area for boaters (147 feet) was placed in a position that will not interfere with the view of Jupiter Inlet Colony residents. He said it could not be enlarged because of a sea grass bed that cannot be disturbed. He neglected to mention that the proposed toe wall will cut through the same sea grass. He also confirmed that boater access area can be easily closed at any time by extending the toe wall and limestone breakwater to the north. Mayor Paterno expressed disappointment with the small size of the boater access area, stating that it likely will accommodate no more than one or two boats at a time.
Palm Beach County Commissioner Marcus’ aide made the same error the Commissioner repeatedly makes. She stated that public access to the lighthouse property is illegal. The Treasure Coast Planning Council corrected Commissioner Marcus the last time she made that statement. Access to the property is not illegal. The only exception is the small section still used for Coast Guard housing.
An ERM representative acknowledged that the southernmost portion of the toe wall – limestone breakwater is, in fact, a perched shoreline. Earlier this week, documents were posted on line stating that, “a perched beach cannot be recommended as a sustainable shoreline management solution due to the risk of dangerous currents and loss of sand.” According to experts, the current design is doomed to failure.
There is no plan to significantly modify the proposed installation of 13,000 square feet of industrial grade vinyl as a retaining wall for the bluff.
A review of the activity of the JILONA Working Group and its members suggests a pattern of deceptiveness and raises the possibility of “a hidden agenda.” Attempts to obtain copies of a variety of documents were denied during and after the meeting. Why would they work so aggressively to hide their actions and decisions from public view? Why do they persist in pushing a plan that is under investigation by the Governor’s office and is opposed by:
Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council
Florida Inland Navigational District
Village of Tequesta
Town of Jupiter
Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce
US Congressman Tom Rooney
US Congressman Allen West
1500+ local residents
Florida State Department of Environmental Protection
Sadly, the answers will not easily come. There are many concerned people who occupy positions substantially higher in the pecking order who will find the answers. It is only a matter of time…
Earlier today (10/26/11), an attempt was made to obtain copies of the JILONA Management Plan from the Loxahatchee River Historical Society. The attempt drew the ire and derision of the Executive Director and two staff members. They demanded to know why they were needed and who would receive them. After a prolonged, heated discussion, they were only able to provide one copy. After the confrontation ended, the Executive Director called a county commissioner to ridicule the character of the person who requested the documents.
Dawson distributed copies to the working group, yet there were no copies available for public scrutiny. This is just one more example of the methods used to hide this information from the public.