It has been just over one year since a shoreline emergency was declared due to eroding duress at the beachfront adjacent to Leonardo Arms condominiums at 7400 Estero Blvd.
On March 19, 2012, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council unanimously approved a resolution to issue a Declaration of Local Shoreline Emergency from the Department of Environmental Protection to allow the Town to seek a permit for temporary protective measures.
In late April 2012, large sand bags were brought in by flatbed trucks and were embedded into the seawall area at Leonardo Arms to aid in the erosion stress area caused by tidal action that has been cutting back the existing bank at the property. The Gulf water migration was cited as threatening the foundation of one of the condo buildings. It was noted that tidal flow came within 23 feet of the building, which houses 60 units.
At this time, the shoreline at Leonardo Arms is no longer eroding and the foundation of one of its building is no longer threatened thanks to Mother Nature. But the dynamics of the beach may change come hurricane season.
Times change. The shoreline changed. Instead of a tidal flow, there is a pond. But that might change as well.
"The Town has encouraged them to look into a long-term solution, such as a potential upland retaining wall, " said Town Environmental Sciences Coordinator Keith Laakkonen.
Laakonen explained the problem could return this summer. Last year, an inlet that usually is around the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area (south of Leonardo Arms) migrated up to the area around Leonardo Arms property due to wind, tides and currents. Then, hurricane season changed the contour of the shoreline again.
"Tropical Storm Debby came along and basically closed that inlet and opened a new one to the south," said Laakkonen.
Another storm may come by and reversed the course.
"Through time, it has moved back a little to the north," he said. 'There is still definitely a tidal flow in the critical wildlife area, but one of the challenges with an area like that, any time you have a small coastal lagoon and a small inlet, it becomes very dynamic and changes can occur rapidly over time. While that inlet may be further south now, it actually has moved to the north since last summer. It is entirely possible that that inlet can move back to Leonardo Arms, and they could be in the same situation again."
Leonardo Arms, like much of the south end of Fort Myers Beach, has had a changing beachfront over the years with a lagoon-type of an area migrating forwards and backwards. Extreme tidal action at high tide and especially with westerly winds washed out the north end of that particular lagoon, cut back sand three to four feet and caused duress on the bank.
When protective vegetation and boulders fell into the eroded area, officials at Leonardo Arms decided to hire a coastal engineering firm to address the deteriorated landscape.
Sand bags were first placed on a six-month temporary permit. That permit was extended while officials at the condominiums looked into a longer-term solution.
Humiston & Moore Engineers of Naples, which was first hired for consultation reasons, began working with DEP and Town officials to get yet another permit extension on the sand bag wall and look into a more permanent solution to the problem that may reoccur. That permit, which may be for an upland retention wall, is for more of a safety valve in case another emergency happens, says Leonardo Arms Condominium Board member Joe Ditonto.
If a wall of that nature is considered, Laakkonen said condo officials would need a special exception from the Town before installation. Town Zoning Coordinator Leslee Chapman confirmed, "a special exception is always required for any proposed permanent structures located in the EC zoning district and forward of the 1978 CCCL." The cost of the special exception application is reported to be $4,000.
"(Installing a retention wall) certainly is less costly than having erosion damage to your property," added Laakkonen.
Humiston & Moore Engineers staff engineer Marc Damon said condo owners are looking to fill the remaining channel (pond) in front of the affected building for now. His company is working on a permit for that.
"There hasn't been any significant progress as far as determining what the more long-term solution is going to be," he said. "Right now, the beach is doing pretty well there, and there is no immediate necessity for doing that work right away. Most likely, we'll go after a permit, but it doesn't mean that condo owners will want to do anything if the beach is not in a critical situation."
Damon said a retention wall has been discussed and, if needed, would be placed upland from the sand bags. Since a design hasn't been worked on yet, a cost for it is hard to judge.
A project of that magnitude may or may not require internal condo association regulations, but money needs to be approved within the board to start the ball rolling.
"Nobody seems to want to help us with that cost," said Ditonto, who stated the cost to fill the pond has varied from $8,000 to $20,000, depending on each different conversation about it.
"We are working with (Humiston & Moore Engineers) constantly," he said. "Until the DEP gives us a permit, we can't even dump a bag of sand in there and raking isn't allowed near it either."
Naples-based Contractor BJ Excavating began the staging for the sand bag wall on Monday, April 23, and placement on the following day. The bags -sized at three feet by three feet by four feet high unfilled and weighing roughly one ton apiece when filled- were said to be in surplus from usage in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Three permits -one each from DEP, Army Corps of Engineers and Town- were required to begin the process.
"The sand bags will support the shoreline and keep those waves from directly impacting the shoreline and reduce erosion that way," said Laakkonen at the time. "One of the things that really cannot be done is blocking the flow of the water which supplies all the tidal flow in and out of the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area."
Humiston & Moore Engineers of Naples was hired for consultation reasons. Brett Moore, the principal consultant for the coastal engineering firm, said the project went well.
"What really helped was how quickly the Town responded to get the process underway," he said at the time.
Last April, Leonardo Arms Association member Gene Dahlin spoke about the beach dynamics.
"It's more involved in the changes in the shoal system offshore at the south of the island," he said. "I think the changes we see down here are slightly the results of how the waves are approaching the islands."