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Stakeholders’ votes being tallied on Cape spreader barrier

By Staff | Oct 5, 2010

In the early to mid 1970s, the Florida Department of Environmental Resources (predecessor of the Department of Environmental Protection or FDEP) required the principal developer, of what would become the city of Cape Coral, GAC Properties Inc., to stop dredging canals through the mangrove fringe in order to accomplish its residential development. Over time, the city of Cape Coral assumed the responsibilities of GAC Properties Inc. and in April 1977, a consent order was issued mandating that the city construct a waterway to accommodate the surface waters from the northwest Cape Coral development. This was accomplished and the result is a seven-mile-long canal, generally parallel to Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve, and a barrier, consisting of a boat lift at the southern end. This canal is referred to as the North Spreader.

This design enabled the fresh surface waters to be trapped and not pour out into the saltwater estuaries of Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve, to permit suspended impurities in the surface water to precipitate out and settle to the bottom, to prevent excess erosion of the berms of the spreader and to let the tidal movements mix with the surface water and allow the estuaries limited amounts of necessary fresh waters. The effect of this could be likened to a yard water sprinkler gently covering one’s yard as it waters. Absent the barrier lift at the south end of there spreader would be like removing the hose from the sprinkler and letting the hose pour large volumes of water into one’s yard. This is exactly what is happening now with the lift having been removed.

Prior to the removal of the lift, several large breaches, including one around the lift, occurred in the in the spreader; and FDEP undertook enforcement action against the city to remedy the situation. In discussions with FDEP in 2007, the city initially planned to address the large breach around the lift by removing the original lift and building a new, better engineered, storm water barrier/lift at a location north of the original lift.

As discussions proceeded, the city argued that it was unlikely that the relocation of the barrier/lift would address what it perceived to be underlying problems with the spreader. The FDEP accepted this position and agreed to amend the consent order to undertake an Ecosystem Management Agreement (EMA) Process. This is permitted by Florida statutes.

The EMA process allows a state agency and a regulated party to assemble a full range of stakeholders who might be affected by a potential enforcement issue; and to jointly develop a package of action items that collectively provide a net ecosystem benefit (NEB) that is superior to the outcome of conventional enforcement action. To prevent further blowouts (breaches) in the spreader, the amended consent order provided for the temporary removal of the existing boat lift.

The initial version of the amended consent order was adopted in early 2008, and was subsequently challenged by petitioners which included individuals, citizen and environmental organizations and Lee County. The petitioners were concerned that the removal of the Ceitus boat lift would allow large amounts of surface fresh water into Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve (the open hose) at a single point, potentially causing more harm than the breaches in the spreader wall. They also believed that safeguards should be include in the consent order to ensure that the lift would be rebuilt, if agreement on NEB’s were not reached through the EMA process.

After further discussions, FDEP, Cape Coral and the petitioners agreed to a second amendment of the consent order which permits the EMA process to proceed and provides strong assurances that Cape Coral will apply for a permit to rebuild the barrier/lift, if an NEB package cannot be agreed upon.

Initially, the EMA called for the stakeholder group to meet for 12 months. If, at the end of 12 months, they did not reach consensus on a package of realistic measures which they believe would provide a greater net ecosystem benefit than replacing the barrier/lift, then Cape Coral would be required to apply for a permit to replace the barrier/lift. Alternatively, if the group did reach consensus, the city would proceed with the implementation of the agreed upon measures.

The stakeholder meetings were conducted from July 2008 until May 17, 2010. The final vote is being tallied, and should be complete by the end of this month (September 2010); and if consensus on the NEB’s is not achieved, the Cape will be required to apply for the permit to reinstall the barrier lift.

The EMA exercise is now complete. The final vote is being tabulated and may the voice of the stakeholders group be heard and adhered to.