Two weeks ago, Kings Point resident Ingrid Robinson’s car was seized and destroyed by a sinkhole that opened up in the parking lot after a water main break.
Hopefully, that won’t be happening again.
Last week, Palm Beach County Commissioner Maria Sachs convened a meeting at Kings Point with representatives of the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department and Vesta Property Services to discuss $7 million in new water and sewer projects for the retirement community west of Delray Beach.
The bulk of the spending, some $5 million, will be used to replace 17,000 linear feet of water main in the Flanders subdivision – where the sinkhole opened – and the Capri subdivision. The design is 90% complete, with an estimated construction cost of $3.9 million to $4.3 million, county officials said. Construction is expected to start in early to mid-2023 and last for about one year.
Robinson’s 2002 Honda Civic was nearly swallowed entirely by the sinkhole, which was about 10 feet long and 6 feet deep. The Water Utilities Department accepted full responsibility for the incident, Robinson said, but the insurance company assigned to investigate her case did not offer her enough to replace her lost car.
“Can you imagine what would have happened if the water had compromised the buildings? This is like a follow-up on the Miami collapse,” said Robinson, referencing the Surfside condominium collapse in June 2021 that killed 98 people.
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About 100 residents of the Flanders E complex, including Robinson, were left without water for roughly seven hours after the pipe burst.
“Kings Point is an interesting place for engineering … because it was constructed many, many, many years ago, so that the golf course is higher up in altitude from the rest of the structures,” Sachs said in Wednesday’s meeting. “That’s completely lopsided to the way that places are built today. Usually, the structures are up high, everything else is down low to protect from flooding.”
The water main broke July 23 because of the age of the pipe and now-outdated material used to construct it, said Ali Bayat, director of the Water Utilities Department.
“We collect information every time there is a main break here,” Bayat said at the meeting. That information is then analyzed with GIS technology — a computer system for examining geographically referenced data, he said.
“And then, that dictates what pipe, at what time, needs to be replaced depending on the breaks, the age of it, the condition, the material order,” Bayat said.
The other projects discussed Wednesday include $1.5 million for improvements to four lift stations, which raise wastewater from lower to higher elevations. Design plans for these stations are 60% complete and expected to be fully finished in the next month or so.
Construction for Station 321 is scheduled to begin next spring, while stations 320, 322 and 334 will start to be renovated the following fall, officials said,
And as early as this month, rehabilitation of the Kings Point sewer line will begin. This project is dedicated to refurbishing the sewer gravity main and inspecting the manholes surrounding it. It’s a smaller-scale project, with a cost of approximately $295,000.
Pipes with worsening conditions will be targeted, so they are treated before collapsing, Bayat said.
Assistant County Administrator Todd Bonlarron did warn that as these projects progress, they are always brought back to the County Commission, which is responsible for their final approvals.
Robinson’s Honda had recently received more than $5,000 of repairs from a certified mechanic to ensure it was in perfect running condition, making its value about $8,500, she said. The insurance company representing the Water Utilities Department, Preferred Governmental Claims Services, claimed the value of her car was $3,300, offering her $6,700 in compensation.
Robinson said that’s not enough to replace her vehicle, which she needs to get to her job at department store TJ Maxx.
Sinkholes are a prevalent feature of Florida’s landscape, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. But not on the grounds of the Kings Point Flanders E complex, where Robinson resides.
“If you’ve never seen an incident like this before, how can the insurance parameters be applicable in my particular situation?” Robinson asked. “This is a negligence case. It wasn’t an act of God, it was negligence, and I’m being penalized?
“Even though we may be an older community, we’re not dead yet. And Florida should protect their older community better and not just assume that they can sweep us under the carpet.”
Jasmine Fernández is a journalist covering Delray Beach and Boca Raton at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @jasminefernandz. Help support our work. Subscribe today.