The Nationals and Astros overcame another potential stumbling block in their efforts to secure a new spring training home in West Palm Beach on Friday when the Palm Beach County legislative delegation approved a motion to introduce a bill in the next state session that would amend water regulations, clearing 27 acres crucial to the new facility.
The City of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County agreed earlier this week to terms of a land swap that traded 140-plus acres of city-owned land to the county, which had already approved public funding for a new spring training facility pending the acquisition of a site. That move renewed hopes for a 2017 opening for a joint facility for the Astros and Nationals in West Palm Beach, and hastened the need for legislative action in order to preserve that schedule.
The Florida state legislature meets next month. Friday’s vote means the Palm Beach County delegation agrees to introduce a bill loosening the regulations set out by the 1967 Water Catchment Act. If approved, that amendment would allow a 450-foot buffer zone around a canal near the site to be trimmed to 50 feet, adding 27 acres of future community fields and parking to the proposed facility.
The Palm Beach County legislative delegation held Friday’s meeting in part to hear the public’s concerns, which some local groups felt were trampled in the rush to act and keep the project on schedule. According to Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post, Representative Lori Berman assured those present that she would pull the bill from consideration should an environmental study, which will begin next week, show a reduction in the easement could cause harm to the water supply. The canal carries water from a water catchment site to a lake nearby, then on to a water treatment plant. The site currently targeted for the new facility was formerly used as a landfill.
“The easement has been misrepresented by some as an environmental concern. It’s really more because property within the easement are closer to the water than we will be, and we’re not building structures on the easement anyway,” former congressman Mark Foley, who has been lobbying for the Nationals throughout their search for a new spring training home, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s really going to be just soccer fields. Some people have misinterpreted what they assume is an environmental impact, which it really isn’t. Once people are shown the map and shown what we are doing, that mitigates their concern.”
Organizers remain hopeful construction on the facility could begin as early as this summer and be completed in time for spring training 2017, according to Foley.