Friends step in to save nature center fish

Update: Friends of Gumbo Limbo Nature Center said they would ante up the $144,000 shortfall for the water pipe project for marine life tanks there. Plans have been stalled by the city until the balance was covered.

“The Friends called this life or death for the fish,” said executive director John Holloway. “We hope this brings this project to life,” he told the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District meeting on April 19.

Commissioners then approved an agreement “that would move the pipes and pumping forward with the city so they can award the contract and start the work,” said Briann Harms, district executive director. “If there’s an overrun, we are here to fulfill it,” added Commissioner Craig Ehrnst.

The pipes will be on the east side of A1A because that will generate more pressure and power, explained Jennifer Bistyga, the city’s coastal program manager.

Meanwhile, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center on A1A remains closed to visitors for other improvements and Covid. But the half-mile boardwalk through the coastal hammock is open for stroller. Nature center upgrades include a new roof, hurricane impact windows, and HVAC system, wooden deck and railings.

“Much of this construction is extremely disruptive and safer and easier to complete with no visitors on site,” according to a city spokesperson. “Once those renovations are complete, and as we continue to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic including the cases in our area, we will be sure to keep everyone informed.” The center gets 200,000 visitors a year counting school trips.

At an earlier meeting, the beach and part district voted to stay committed to the pipes project, but not spend more than their taxpayer revenue already set aside. Commissioners unanimously approved $3.222 million to repair and upgrade the saltwater pumps.

“We can’t carry the whole load,” Commissioner Steve Engel said.

“Unfortunately, as a result of the District not to fully fund the piping project, the project will not move forward,” the city said on April 8. The existing pumping system is “inadequate and the situation continues to get worse. Without adequate seawater flow, the operations and objectives of the Nature Center could be compromised.” the city added through a spokesperson.

FAU biology professor Jeanette Wyneken, long involved in research at the center, told commissioners she supports downsizing the pumping project which the city has done. But she wants to see it move forward. Training FAU students and educating the public “would not be possible without learning about the science we are doing,” she told commissioners by phone.

By Marci Shatzman





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