Governor now to decide fate of Cato’s Bridge beach

Only a few weeks remain, perhaps no more than two, for the public to decide whether they treasure access to Cato’s Bridge beach enough to send an email to Tallahassee. Or do they agree with federal officials that beach access to the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area (JILONA) should be permanently denied to the public?

Florida Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet, which meet every two weeks, will make the final—and permanent—decision regarding the plan devised by the JILONA working group to stabilize approximately 500 feet of an eroding bluff on the shoreline near the Jupiter Inlet lighthouse with a 1,400′-long, rock breakwater atop a concrete toewall.

The structure, which will lie approximately 25′ off the coast, will effectively bar almost all public access to the northern part of the shoreline, known locally as Cato’s Bridge beach, along the western edge of the Intracoastal Waterway from the Jupiter Inlet to the CR707 Bridge.

The plan also calls for a 700′-long, 15′-high, three-tiered, vinyl retaining wall at the southern end of the shoreline nearest the lighthouse where erosion is most evident.

The design and permit application—and multiple reapplications—prepared by Palm Beach County’s ERM (Environmental Resources Management), was referred to the Governor’s Cabinet last week by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection due to “heightened public concern.” The District DEP office reports that it has received 56 emails thus far regarding the permit application.

“Cato’s Bridge beach has been a popular destination for families for generations,” says Martin County Commissioner Patrick Hayes, a vocal opponent of both the permit design and what he calls the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s “heavy-handed” approach to its plan and for limiting public participation in the planning process.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the U.S. Dept. of the Interior owns and manages the property that lies with the Village of Tequesta and the Town of Jupiter, as part of its federally designated Outstanding Natural Area and the National Landscape Conservation System. The U.S. Coast Guard owns a portion of the property, as well, but has not historically prohibit public use of the beach.

“I do not believe that anyone, whether they are a member of the JILONA committee or not, is opposed to shoreline stabilization,” Hayes says, who calls the tranquil shoreline with its turquoise waters a “precious and highly valued citizen treasure.”

He also vigorously supports stabilization of the eroding bluffs at the southern end of the shoreline, “but I do not want to see—and neither do I believe that our citizenry wants—an ‘armored’ shoreline preventing what has been an historical recreational use of the property,” he adds, “and that’s exactly what’s being proposed.”

Tequesta mayor opposes plan

Tequesta Mayor Tom Paterno, a voting member of the JILONA group, also opposes the plan, even after modifications were made. He also has voiced objections to what he calls BLM’s attempt to “stack” the JILONA committee with members of the tony Jupiter Inlet Colony that vigorously support the rock barrier blocking beach access.

Jupiter Inlet Colony Vice-Mayor Chip Block said that the boaters who use Cato’s Bridge beach “are not nice people. They party hearty,” which results in “an abundance” of broken beer bottles, trash, loud music, and kids without life vests playing in the water. “I see it every weekend,” he has said.

Of the nine JILONA members, three are from the Jupiter Inlet Colony, observed Paterno during the fall meeting. “And why is that?…for what?…for 360 people living on the opposite shore (of the ICW),” Paterno asked, “while there’s only one representative from Tequesta?” Tequesta’s population is approximately 5,800.

A compromise plan that called for removal of 149 linear feet of the rock barrier to the beach was approved by the Jupiter Town Council after ERM and BLM officials met with Mayor Karen Golonka and council members, but the compromise plan also received vigorous objections from the Jupiter Inlet Colony members, who want none of the barrier removed.

Walter Franklin of Jupiter wants the entire breakwater removed. An activist who attends JILONA meetings regularly but is not always permitted to comment, Franklin has steadfastly led opposition to ERM’s plan on multiple fronts, including the establishment of a Facebook page, “Save Cato’s Beach,” and writing a guest editorial for the Jupiter Courier newspaper.

ERM’s design questioned

Franklin calls attention to the fact that the JILONA plan was designed by the same ERM engineers who designed the boat slips at Dupois Park in Jupiter, calling into question the possible lack of expertise behind the ERM-designed plan. (At Dupois Park, 15 public boat docks were constructed recently too far above the water line to allow disembarkment from a docking boat, which will require a retrofit with ladders before they can be used.)

BLM officials, however, express support of ERM’s design of the JILONA plan, which must comply with federal law, they assert, that bans all but passive (non-motorized) recreational use of Outstanding Natural Areas.

Local government officials, however, have sent formal letters to the state DEP objecting to the JILONA plan, including the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, the Florida Inland Navigation District, the Village of Tequesta, the Town of Juno Beach, the Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce and the Martin County Board of County Commissioners.

“US Congressman Rooney also has expressed his opposition to the plan,” Franklin adds. “Stabilization of the shoreline and bluff is a reasonable goal, but a plan that excludes public access, a plan that has the aesthetic appeal of an industrial park, is totally inconsistent with the desires of the community.”

Email messages may be sent to DEP’s Cabinet Affairs Director Karl Rasmussen at [email protected] , who will report to the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund—the state governor and his cabinet—consisting of the state’s chief financial officer, the attorney general, and the state Department of Agriculture & Consumer Affairs commissioner. No date has been set as yet to vote on the permit. For more information, call 850-245-2025.