District Approves Funding of Gumbo Limbo Pumping Project

BOCA RATON – Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District Commissioners reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center on Monday while also stewarding responsible spending of taxpayer money.

Commissioners unanimously approved a motion at Monday's meeting to spend the $3.222 million budgeted for the 2020-21 fiscal year to repair and upgrade saltwater pumps and piping at Gumbo Limbo.

“We support the mission of the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in general and this project in particular,” District Chair Susan Vogelgesang said. “Gumbo Limbo is a vital part of our recreational community and the District has committed more than $3 million to this project.”

Located between the Intracoastal waterway and A1A, Gumbo Limbo pumps saltwater from the Atlantic Ocean to tanks within the facility that house marine life. The center hosts facilities for endangered sea turtles, native fish and other marine life for research and educational purposes.

The Gumbo Limbo Nature Center exists as a partnership between the City of Boca Raton, Florida Atlantic University, the Friends of Gumbo Limbo and the District. At the moment the District is the sole entity that has approved funding the replacement of antiquated pumping equipment.

The District funds Gumbo Limbo's yearly operating expenses under the guidance of an Interlocal Agreement with the City of Boca Raton that dates back to the mid 1980s.

In addition, the District set aside more than $4.6 million for Gumbo Limbo capital improvements during the current fiscal year that include this pumping project, upgrades to a roof, air conditioning unit and windows at the facility, and construction of a new observation tower.

“We are completely committed to Gumbo Limbo,” Commissioner Craig Ernst said.

The District budgeted $3.22 million to cover the project's entire cost based on a 2020 funding request from the City, which will manage the project. The City now now expects the cost to exceed its own projection by nearly half-a-million dollars.

“I'm fully supportive of the project,” Commissioner Erin Wright said. “We understand that it needs to be done but we also want to be sure that the taxpayers aren't paying more than what we budgeted for. It shouldn't all fall on the taxpayers.”

The City of Boca Raton has several other potential sources it could tap if additional funding of the pumps and piping project is required.

An agreement between the City and FAU allows the school to use Gumbo Limbo for research and includes a mechanism for FAU to help pay for maintenance and upkeep of the facilities. FAU's research team located at Gumbo Limbo uses a considerable amount of the saltwater pumped into the facility.

Friends of Gumbo Limbo, a non-profit that resides within the facility, represents another potential source for funding the cost overrun. The organization boasted more than $3 million in reserves on its most recent (2019) federal tax return.

The City of Boca Raton, which owns and operates the facility, could also elect to contribute to the project.

“I feel like the $3.22 million we have reserved, we should stick with in hopes that the City and FAU and Friends can find a way of coming up with the additional funds,” Commissioner Bob Rollins said.

Gumbo Limbo Nature Center Sign