Palm Beach County won a big battle in the fight to extend State Road 7 Friday when Administrative Law Judge Bram Carter found that the county had followed all applicable permitting criteria and is entitled to an environmental resource permit.
The county has pushed to extend State Road 7 north to Northlake Boulevard, but the city of West Palm Beach has pushed back, arguing that the extension threatens the Grassy Waters Preserve, a 24-square mile marsh that is the source of its drinking water.
Carter’s recommended order is a major victory for the county.
“The project would not adversely impact public health, safety, and welfare associated with the city’s public water supply in the water catchment area because the project would have no effect on the city’s water supply operations,” the judge wrote. “In addition, there are reasonable protective measures to prevent a spill from entering the city’s public water supply.”
All parties now have 15 days to petition the South Florida Water Management District with errors they believe Carter committed in the order.
If SFWMD agrees that an error has been made, the erroneous portion of Carter’s order will not be followed.
But in an email to county officials, Assistant County Attorney Kim Phan pointed out that un-ringing the bell Carter just struck is no small task.
“An agency’s ability to reject any portion of a recommended order is very limited to conclusions of law and interpretation of administrative rules,” Phan wrote. “Also, the agency may not reject or modify the findings of fact unless it was not based on competent substantial evidence on the proceedings (or) did not comply with essential requirements of law.”
The 4th District Court of Appeal has ruled that area cities don’t have to contribute to an inspector general program established by Palm Beach County after voters approved a referendum calling for such a program.
That referendum was approved in November 2010 by a majority of voters in the county and by a majority in each of the county’s municipalities.
But after the county created the Office of Inspector General in 2011 – and required cities to help pay for it – 15 cities sued, arguing the county could not force them to pay for the program.
The county won the first legal battle when a trial court ruled that funding the program was not a discretionary budgetary decision and that the county could compel municipal payment for it.
The cities appealed, and today the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in their favor, setting the stage for the case to go to the Florida Supreme Court.
Asked if the county will take the case to the state Supreme Court, County Attorney Denise Nieman said: “We’re exploring our options.”
Inspector General John Carey said he’s “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.
“My disappointment is that we must continue to provide the OIG oversight to the County and all municipalities at approximately half staff,” he said.
West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said the ruling reaffirms that cities have the right to determine how municipal funding is spent.
“It can not be imposed on us by the county,” she said.
Two Loxahatchee area residents and a preservation group, 1000 Friends of Florida, sued Minto and county, arguing that the development orders the county issued violated its comprehensive plan.
Minto and the county won the case, which was appealed.
Now, the county – citing the Minto development area’s incorporation on June 20 as the new city of Westlake – wants out of the case.
“Thus, as of June 20, 2016, the County no longer possessed the authority to administer the development orders it originally issued, rather, the City of Westlake possesses exclusive authority to administer those orders,” the county wrote in a motion filed Tuesday with the 4th District Court of Appeal.
The county’s motion notes that lawyers for those who sued the county and Minto do not object to its request to withdraw from the case.
The attorney representing Minto will handle the appeal, “and the City of Westlake should be substituted for the County,” the county’s lawyers wrote.
Two Loxahatchee area residents and a pair of preservation groups were ordered to pay attorneys fees after their effort to block changes to Palm Beach County’s comprehensive plan failed.
In a ruling issued earlier this week, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Donald Hafele said Robert Schutzer, Karen Schutzer, 1000 Friends of Florida and ALERTS of Palm Beach County “knew or should have known” that the changes – approved by the county so the giant Minto West development project could move forward – were permissible.
The Schutzers and the two groups had sued Minto and the county to block the changes. They and others opposed the development project, arguing that it would generate sprawl, gobble up open space and increase traffic.
Minto and the county have won a string of rulings in the case, and the development project – now known as Westlake – is moving forward.
Ryan Smart, president of 1000 Friends of Florida, said his organization has appealed the ruling that cleared the comprehensive plan changes. He said the organization is also seeking a re-hearing on Hafele’s order regarding attorneys fees.
“We strongly disagree with the judge’s ruling, and we will be filing a motion for a re-hearing,” Smart said.
Minto Communities and Palm Beach County have prevailed in a legal challenge to the 4,500-unit development project in The Acreage.
ALERTS of Palm Beach County, a Loxahatchee community group, 1000 Friends of Florida and two Acreage residents sued Minto and the county, arguing that the county did not adhere to its comprehensive plan in approving the project.
But on Tuesday acting Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Edward Garrison ruled in favor of Minto and the county.
The ruling was one of several that have cleared the way for construction to take place.