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Cape Council again fields water quality concerns

July 31, 2018
Pine Island Eagle

Cape Coral City Council heard another round of complaints from residents concerned about water quality Monday.

Help may be on the horizon, however.

The city could have a partner in the county in getting toxic blue-green algae removed from Cape canals, thanks to $3 million in state Department of Environmental Protection grant money for areas affected.

Resident Louis Navarra summed the water quality issue up succinctly, pairing it with his complaint about vacation rentals: "Maybe the algae will kill tourism and I won't have to worry about rentals because nobody will want to come here anymore."

Cape Coral Utilities director Jeff Pearson took a helicopter ride over Cape Coral and Lee County last week to survey the environmental damage.

"I noticed a lot of buildup in the dead-end canals. That seemed prevalent in a lot of areas where it has nowhere else to go," Pearson said.

Councilmember John Gunter asked if there was anything that could be done to prevent toxic algal blooms from intruding into Cape canals in the future.

"We need to look outside the box and see if there are preventative measures we can take," Gunter said. "I live on a canal and we have green water and the smell. We need to find a short-term plan for a long-term fix."

Mayor Joe Coviello said the county is seeking grant money and the city, in turn, is applying to the county for that money as well for cleanup to piggyback with the county's, for which a vendor has been found by the DEP.

"We'll have to figure out how to dispose of the algae once it's cleaned up and we're hoping one of the first places they come is Cape Coral," Coviello said following the meeting. "We've had residents peppering the Army Corps of Engineers for them to come here, but we have to respect their role in this. They don't have any role in the water quality except for the releases."

Nutrient-rich water releases from Lake Okeechobee, made by the Corps when water levels in the lake get too high and so threaten the surrounding dike, have been blamed as a major contributing factor to both the blue-green algal bloom in the Calooshatchee and Cape canals and the red ride blooms off the beaches of Sanibel and Fort Myers Beach.

Coviello said he has seen suction and skimming used to pick algae up, but there hasn't been an approved method of disposal made by the Lee County. The problem has been finding out how to dispose of the toxin-fraught waste.

A possible place is in the southern part of the county where there aren't many people, Pearson said.

Coviello said the county has authorized $150,000 to start moving forward as soon as a disposal method is decided upon.

Regarding grass dumping into Cape canals, another resident concern express Monday night, Councilmember John Carioscia expressed his frustration over the inability of the city to do much except when dumpers are caught in the act.

"We can catch robbers on tape, but not grass dumpers. That doesn't make sense," Carioscia asked. "If we establish rules and penalties and follow up on them, it will go away."

Carioscia, a former police officer who worked in code enforcement when he moved to the city, said it is a process. First-time offenses are usually given a written warning, with subsequent offenses resulting in fines.

Coviello asked Police Chief David Newlan about the plan to cut back on marine patrol and whether that money can be restored to address grass dumping. Newlan said they would go to the specific areas.

Councilmember Rick Williams said the city should think about beefing up the marine unit, which currently has five boats and two personal watercraft.



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