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Marine consultant offers advice about dredging

February 27, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Stakeholders interested in deepening passes and boating accesses on the south end of Fort Myers Beach met with Fish Tale Marina Owner Al Durrett at his office last week in a follow-up meeting to discuss three critical issues for a wish list to satisfy a request by the Department of Environmental Protection agency.

One cog of the wish list encompasses a maintenance program for the beachfront at Lover's Key, installing new buoys and dredging at Big Carlos Pass, a dredging project at New Pass, a dredge between Back Bay green markers #39 through green marker #49 and a dredging project on the west side of New Pass Bridge east to green marker #25. A second choice surrounds a maintenance dredge on the Gulf side of Big Carlos Pass as well as on the east side of New Pass green markers #29 north to green marker #35. If those two options fail, a third choice is to involve a maintenance dredging of Big Carlos Pass to open up the closing channel and remark buoys to make the channel more visible to boaters.

The stakeholders are seeking an entity to sponsor a permit for the dredging processes. Lee County seems to be the best fit for sponsorship and West Coast Inland Navigation District the right source for funding. Convincing the right people at the right levels may be a bigger challenge than at first thought.

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Beach resident Ted Lawwill of the U.S. Power Squadron as well as Town and County officials have done chartings of Big Carlos Pass. Their results have been similar.

Enter Hans Wilson, a marine and environmental consultant and engineer, who offered procedural advice on how to get that job done. He has much experience in dredging projects, including the recent one at Laguna Shores.

"All of our dredging projects involve mapping in waterways with pre-construction and post-construction depths and dealing with contractors," he said. "If it's a governmental entity that makes the application, you automatically qualify for consented use.

Before the Laguna Shores dredging project, Wilson put together an assessment matrix that included criteria involving questions if residents there would be willing to pay for it as well as and if there was an environmental component that benefited the community at-large.

A navigational nightmare may not be enough for sponsorship, but water quality issues in Estero Bay because of flow restriction from a blocked pass that has been reported as low as 2.2 feet at mean low tide may help to factor in.

"What you want to do is create a one-page white paper with all the critical talking points that you can make to whoever is going to listen to fund this project," said Wilson.

The professional consultant also serves as president of the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association.

"It's my obligation to do what I can to improve boating in this area and to get people into boats," he said. "I would like to see a project that is funded by settlement funds that comes from the county and has a direct impact on improving not just flows into Estero Bay from an environmental standpoint, but also life-held safety issues in terms of being able to get to the harbor and refuge and have deeper draft boats get out into the Gulf and go fishing."

WCIND is a special taxing district that maintains and promotes safe navigation through waterways. Beach residents pay a monthly fee to the district for that purpose. While Matanzas Pass is a Federal channel that involves the Army Corps of Engineers, Big Carlos Pass and New Pass are natural channels maintained by the district.

If hired by County officials, Wilson would put a plan in place.

"I would probably take a look at the water depths in more detail to determine exactly what your controlling depth is, then I would take a look at all the work that Sea Grant has done to identify how many vessels are affected," he said. Wilson also noted listing benefit, cost, spoils and where to place them from a Big Carlos dredge as work that needs to be assessed.

Surveys and chartings there have been done by U.S. Power Squadron's Ted Lawwill and, more recently, Lee County's Steve Boutelle and the Town's Keith Laakkonen. The charting numbers matched each other and recognize a problem.

County Commissioner Tammy Hall, who presently sits on the WCIND board, could be a major player in acquiring the sponsorship. Another is Commissioner Larry Kiker, a Beach resident and former mayor and charter captain, and Commissioner John Manning, who is involved in BP oil spill settlement claims for the County.

"I think now would be the time to approach Commissioner Manning and say, 'Here is a project that we feel directly benefits not just resident in the Town of Fort Myers Beach, but boaters in our area and passing through the area as well as improvements in flows into Estero Bay'," said Wilson. "If you can tie it to a beach restoration in some fashion, considering that the material is suitable, that's a win-win for everybody."

IBOT officials work on assessments

In a follow-up to Thursday's meeting, Fish-Tale Marina Owner Al Durrett and Ostego Bay Foundation President Joanne Semmer, both directors for the International Board of Trade, are crunching numbers on how many and what types of boats as well as vessel size and depth needed for draft use Big Carlos Pass.

Some of the largest deep-draft boats require six feet to navigate the pass and find it extremely difficult to do so at certain tide levels if not at all times.

With a drawbridge at that pass, larger boats should conceivably be able to navigate through there. Conversations are ongoing with Commissioner Kiker, who is in touch with Boutelle and other County officials involved in such a potential undertaking.

"Boaters are limited on when they can come through there. That is the problem," said Durrett on Tuesday morning. "We are putting information together as a program so that County officials can determine what needs to be done if they are going to be a sponsor for it."

IBOT is a private non-for-profit San Carlos & Estero islands Waterfront Partnership

organization whose mission "to educate and support best management and promotional practices for a healthy environmentally sustained waterfront community."

"Every boat that uses this pass brings a dollar amount to the islands," said Durrett. "These boats generate revenues with people spending money in Southwest Florida."



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