By: Diane Emeott Korzen Contributing Writer
About 150 Boca Raton residents packed the Downtown Library for a public outreach meeting on extensive renovations proposed for both Lake Wyman and James A. Rutherford parks on Monday night, Feb. 26.
Many in the room were boat owners; as well as kayak and paddleboard enthusiasts, and environmentally conscious citizens looking to preserve their peaceful setting.
Residents were asked to fill out a 10-question survey regarding whether they were boat owners, if they would use a proposed boat ramp at Rutherford Park, if they currently use the Silver Palm boat ramp, and what type of non-motorized craft (kayak, paddleboard, canoe) they own and would use amenities for such as a loading zone, canoe/kayak trail, launch area.
Members of the public embraced the chance to speak at the end of the meeting. For over a half hour, Coastal Program Manager Jennifer Bistyga passed around a hand-held microphone to those with hands raised.
“I am a lifelong resident. Rutherford Park is one of the last gems we have. I am ‘for’ all of this stuff [proposed renovations]. The only thing I’m not for is the boat ramps [here]. I’m super concerned about the environmental impacts. What better to put around a bunch of manatees than boat propellers?” resident Ryan Dick said.
Boca City Council Members Mayor Susan Haynie, Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers, CRA Chair/Council Member Scott Singer, Council Member Andrea Levine O’Rourke and Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District Commissioners Craig Ehrnst and Erin Wright also attended the meeting.
Earlier in the meeting, Singer said he had an answer to one resident’s question of whether the nearby Silver Palm Park boat ramp is closing.
“No, I voted to triple the number of boat ramps in the city. Currently, we have only one boat ramp at Silver Palm Park. Boat ramps No. 2 and 3 are proposed to be side by side at Lake Wyman and Rutherford Park. I’m in favor of expanding boat ramp capacity in the city,” he said.
A number of residents who spoke at the end, however, seemed to be against bringing in motorboats; preferring to limit the location of a boat ramp to Silver Palm Park – which will have its own public input session at a later time as part of the city’s Waterfront Master Plan.
“Do you think people [boaters] are going to stay in this tiny little channel? It’s not going to happen. You’re going to ruin one of the last estuaries we have left. Leave a little bit for
our kids,” Randy Astras said.
Five parks were presented at a Feb. 12 Boca City Council Workshop –Wildflower Park, South Beach Park, Spanish River Park, Palmetto Dune Park, Red Reef Park – which already have budget estimates, conceptual ideas, and recommended project prioritization.
The city hopes to gather residential input about the need and location for boat ramps, so conceptual designs can be completed for Silver Palm Park that integrate with the Wildflower site.
Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park & Hillsboro El Rio Park were not included in Waterfront Master Plan presentation by the city’s consultant EDSA, as they are currently in the preliminary phases of renovations.
As of press time, Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park was in the Conceptual Plan phase and Hillsboro El Rio Park was reportedly at 80 to 90 percent designed.
Proposed renovations for Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park include: new motorized boat launch ramps, kayak launch, trailer parking/access, canoe and kayaks trails, boardwalk replacement, exotic vegetation removal, mangrove habitat establishment, and coastal hammock development.
Additional features are bathrooms, a bridge/culvert structure, floating docks, channel to the Intracoastal, channel markers, channel dredge volume and a boat wash-down area.
The project is expected to enhance and rehabilitate overall waterfront access.
Via its Waterfront Master Plan, the city is trying to activate city-owned parks that adjoin the Intracoastal Waterway.
At the public outreach meeting, Consultant Dr. Michael Jenkins said the project was now in the Conceptual Phase.
“A Feasibility Study is complete, a Conceptual Master Plan has been developed. We are [tonight] at the point of Public Engagement/Outreach – to get your feedback.” Jenkins added that Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park is to be one piece of the overall Waterfront Master Plan.
Jenkins said Rutherford Park currently has 6/10 of a mile of waterfront, or limited access. He called a boat ramp there “feasible” but listed the challenges as: “Not ideal ingress and egress constraints, parking capacity limited by site constraints, and environmental considerations.”
He added that the conceptual design features two areas for parking.
Coastal Program Manager Bistyga said the Lake Wyman/Rutherford Park project came to the City of Boca from Palm Beach County in 2011, but was tabled for a few years.
Project costs are to be determined, according to Bistyga, who described it at “a lengthy process.”
In March 2017, the city applied for a Florida Inland Navigation District (FIND) grant for Lake Wyman and Rutherford Park Restoration Project, Phase 1. Phase 1 includes engineering, permitting, and design associated with revitalizing the canoe trails and boardwalks, environmental enhancements in the two park areas and development of a coastal hammock along the FIND property located in Lake Wyman.