The city of West Palm Beach is suing federal agencies over a planned extension of State Road 7, claiming the project could harm endangered species and pollute public drinking water.
The planned 8.5-mile extension would stretch from Okeechobee Boulevard to Northlake Boulevard in Palm Beach County, running partially through the city and abutting the city-owned Grassy Waters Preserve. West Palm Beach claims the permitting process for the project, approved in July by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, overlooked environmental concerns.
The Sept. 13 lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C., federal court names the corps as a defendant along with the Department of the Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Highway Administration.
“Together, these agencies funded and issued approvals for a roadway project that allows for the direct and indirect destruction of hundreds of acres of federally protected wetlands, the loss or degradation of habitat for multiple endangered species, the introduction of nutrient laden stormwater into a low-nutrient wetland, and multiple other direct, indirect and cumulative impacts to the regional ecosystem of West Palm Beach, Florida,” the lawsuit claims.
The Grassy Waters Preserve is a 23-square-mile wetlands ecosystem that is home to threatened species including the Everglades snail kite, wood storks, red-cockaded woodpeckers, sandhill cranes, white ibises and little blue herons, according to the lawsuit. It also provides drinking water for West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and South Palm Beach.
The city has been fighting the project for five years, arguing the road’s stormwater runoff would end up in the preserve by way of the Ibis Lakes, where the water is supposed to be treated.
“The Ibis stormwater management system is failing and cannot handle additional stormwater,” the lawsuit claims. “State Road 7 will push more water and nutrients into Ibis’s lakes, thereby flushing existing pollutants (present in both the standing water and in the muck on the lake bottoms) from such lakes into Grassy Waters Preserve.”
West Palm Beach already challenged the state environmental resources permit for State Road 7 based on the Ibis Lakes stormwater issue, but an administrative law judge denied the challenge and the case is pending in the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Now the city wants to see the federal permit remitted until a more thorough look is taken at the environmental impact of the project. The lawsuit also seeks attorney fees and costs. The legal battle has led to more than $2 million in fees so far, according to the Palm Beach Post.
The lawsuit was filed by Holland & Knight attorneys Rafe Petersen and Aaron Heishman in Washington. They did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The federal agencies do not comment on litigation, and the U.S. Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment.