Efforts are in the works to try and save a piece of local history by a Pine Island resident who wants part of the Matlacha Bridge to become an artificial reef either in Charlotte Harbor or Boca Grand Pass.
Rod Mazzoli with Island Floors Inc. & Interiors decided he wanted to save some of the old bridge from being demolished, so a piece of history would be preserved for individuals to enjoy as an artificial reef.
"I would like to see it as the fishing-est reef of the world," said Tina Bush, also with Island Floors Inc. & Interiors.
LEE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
The old Matlacha Bridge, which has been a part of the community for many years, will soon to be torn down once the new bridge opens. In an effort to save some of that history, the Matlacha Bridge Reef Project was formed to save a portion of the bridge to turn it into an artificial reef.
She said if used as a reef, it would benefit the natural life of the bridge pilings, the economy and environment.
The idea came to fruition the first week of July and emails were sent out to as many contacts as possible to kick start what is known as the Matlacha Bridge Reef Project, a non-profit organization.
Bush said they did not expect the idea to blow up as big as it has with the number of responses they have received. As soon as she sent out emails regarding the bridge, she said she got responses immediately from various individuals.
She said she hopes to rally the community about the idea in hopes they will offer a helping hand in legwork, flyers and fund-raisers.
"We have a lot of stuff that needs to be done," Bush said.
Those interested in joining the cause can send an email to email@example.com.
She said time is of the essence right now because they are working against the clock of when the demolition will begin, as well as the completion of the new bridge.
Sarah Clarke, Lee County Department of Transportation Project Manager, said the demolition of the old bridge is expected to take place in two weeks, and should only take a week to complete.
Although a time table is before the Matlacha Bridge Reef Project group, their vision of keeping a piece of the bridge continues with a benefit in the works and grants being sought to raise money to make the artificial reef a realty.
"If done correctly, it won't stop," Bush said of not delaying the opening of the new bridge.
She said they are not trying to stall the project, but rather use a portion of the bridge for something that matters.
"They did it with the Sanibel Causeway, why not Matlacha," Bush said of turning the bridge into an artificial reef.
The Lee County Department of Transportation disagrees that in this stage of the game it would delay what is left of the project.
"With this coming up at this point, it would delay the project and add a lot of cost," she said.
In order for sections of the bridge to be placed on a reef, Clarke said they have to open permits, along with cleaning it to a certain extent, which will cost additional time and money to complete the task.
If the option of disposing a portion of the bridge for an artificial reef was made early on in the project, she said it may have been possible.
"We had lots of meetings in the Matlacha community, but this never came up," Clarke said. "It is something we could have worked at in the beginning of the project."
Bush is in shock no one tried to stop the contractor from taking the bridge away from the community.
"It is monument to our area and I can't believe someone didn't stop them from taking it away from us," Bush said of the bridge.
When the bidding process began for the Matlacha Bridge, Clarke said disposing the bridge for an artificial reef was a choice for the contractor.
She said she discussed the bridge being used as an artificial reef with the contractor who was awarded the project, Archer Western Contractors Ltd., but they said it would be more cost effective to haul the old bridge to a recycle plant.
"It is not cost effective for him to haul it out," she said.
Bush said although they are still collecting figures of how much it would cost to turn a section of the bridge into an artificial reef, she hopes the money allocated to dispose the pieces of the bridge can be used to go towards the reef. She said she has no problem with raising the additional funds needed.
"We really think it matters," she said of keeping some of the history. "I feel passionate about it because the bridge has been a part of our community for decades."
The bridge, Clarke said, will turn into recycled concrete that will be used for road bases in Lee County.
The next stage of the construction of the Matlacha Bridge, Clarke said, will occur in early August when the traffic will be switched to the new bridge.
She said a phase will be eliminated, so they will not have traffic going in one direction on both the old bridge and the new bridge.
Unfortunately with only one lane of traffic, Clarke said the traffic in Matlacha will be pretty long for an extended amount of time.
"Traffic flow through Matlacha is going to be tough," she said, adding that it is better to do it over a two-day period rather than drag it out over a couple of weeks. "Trying to keep on schedule and minimize pain of traffic through there."
The bridge is expected to be completed in November.