By Steve Plunkett
A call to the cavalry didn’t work, so people still irked by the horns on the Camino Real bridge are bringing in the heavy artillery.
State Rep. Peggy Gossett-Seidman, herself a boater, is leading the charge against the intrusive noise after an outcry a year ago by residents fell flat.
“I personally heard the horn when I was in the Atlantic Ocean entering the Boca Raton Inlet. That is just about a half a mile east,” she told the full Palm Beach County Commission on Oct. 3.
Gossett-Seidman, R-Highland Beach, has collected documents from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Florida Department of Transportation that she says clearly state that the county can impose whatever rules it wants on when to sound the horns.
“The decision to set the bridge horn belongs to [County Engineer David] Ricks and county engineering alone. No state statute exists that requires the bridge horn schedule set as every 20 minutes 24/7 and audible from the Boca Raton ocean inlet,” she wrote in an email to County Administrator Verdenia Baker.
The aggrieved neighbors include property owners in the Royal Palm Improvement District and guests of the “newly reimagined” The Boca Raton.
“While we understand the alarm is necessary for the safety of pedestrians and boaters, we would appreciate it if the decibel level could be lowered as the alarm causes a distraction to our Pool Club and restaurant guests,” Daniel Hostettler, the luxury resort’s president and CEO, said in a letter to Gossett-Seidman.
Hostettler’s complaint got the county officials’ attention.
“That bridge has been there, our procedure has been there, so I’m a little surprised that the Boca resort is now complaining about it,” Baker said. She assured her bosses that her staff would order a feasibility study from consultants and investigate the situation anew.
Gossett-Seidman estimates that the horns, which are triggered every 20 minutes when the bridge is raised, disrupt the peace of 3,000 to 5,000 of her constituents. A county report puts the bridge horns’ sound level at 107 decibels, comparable to the top volume of a train horn. Complaints about the horns’ noise surfaced in 2022 after decades of non-use, neighbors say. County officials had no answer for why the horns were not used before.
Commissioner Marci Woodward, whose district covers the southeast part of the county, has arranged meetings with Gossett-Seidman, Baker and other county officials.
“We don’t have a hard policy. We’ve been following FDOT and Coast Guard regulations. It’s not actually something that we’ve adopted as a board,” Woodward told her colleagues.
She also said staff had compiled numbers showing the bridge blasts its horns only once or twice a night, which relieved Commissioner Sara Baxter.
“I do think people get a little angry if they can’t sleep,” Baxter said.
That the matter is being discussed by the County Commission is a step farther than neighbors got last year. At that time, they contacted then-Commissioner Robert Weinroth, whose staff was rebuffed by lower county officials saying they had to follow Coast Guard and FDOT standards.
But this time, Gossett-Seidman has correspondence from the Coast Guard and FDOT that says otherwise.
“If an accommodation can be made to address local resident concerns about the operation of the horn at the Camino Real bridge, then the county would be the most appropriate entity to address those concerns since they own, operate, and maintain the referenced bridge,” wrote Kelley Hall, the FDOT district’s structures maintenance engineer.
And Jennifer Zercher with the Coast Guard’s Miami office said federal regulations require only that bridges sound a horn as a fog warning or to answer a boater’s horn signal.
“The Coast Guard does not have the authority to require a sound signal [horn] if not specifically for responding to a signal for an opening or a fog signal for reduced visibility,” Zercher wrote.
Residents are cautiously encouraged by Gossett-Seidman’s efforts.
“She’s doing a great job, but these bridge people are doing their best to not talk about it. They just keep sidetracking her. They’re so vehemently against changing it,” said Tom Tyghem, who lives two doors south of the bridge and has personally spent “several thousand dollars” for a lawyer to pursue the noise complaint.