A new design for a long-awaited dredging project at a much-needed and never-dredged navigational passageway beyond the south end of Estero Island received a consensual agreement at a stakeholders meeting at Fish-Tale Marina last Wednesday.
Big Carlos Pass now has a rough timeline for a process that will deepen the boating access under the bridge and into the channel that reaches out into the Gulf. Concerned participating residents gave a recommendation for a new channel design a thumbs up - a plan that will straighten out the hooked passageway and allow users better access.
While there is no concrete timeline, Lee County officials are encouraged that a new permit process should be expedited within an eight-month timeline following a stated 120 days it will take to assemble the permit, do soil sampling and modeling work and bring forth the presentation to the Board of County Commissioners for approval. That package will be sent to the Army Corps of Engineers.
COURTESY OF LEE COUNTY GOVERNMENT
The bathymetry chart shows a graphic of the depth levels of Big Carlos Pass. The red boxed-in areas depicts where the sand will come from for the Bonita Beach Nourishment and the Lovers Key Nourishment projects, the former which has already begun. The proposal is to go through one of the borrow areas.
Lee County Utilities Director Pamela Keyes, the meeting presenter, stated the reason for the change in channel design was two-fold: cost-savings and better navigation. She stated the meeting goal was to find out what the boaters and users need from this dredging project.
"We noticed we can do some improvements in the area," she said. "(The recommendation) decreases the amount of dredging, which decreases the cost. It also gives the boaters a straighter shot out into the Gulf. We believe that is a good route to take."
The passageway is expected to be dredged to 10 feet deep at low tide (matching the surrounding depths in the area) and be 150 feet wide. Big Carlos Pass now suffers from depths under five feet at some spots during low tide.
While the primary objective is to dredge the pass, soil samples are expected to be taken along the proposed route to determine where the spoils can be placed. Preliminary talks with Department of Environmental Protection officials have those spoils being placed northward in the Gulf adjacent to the thin shoreline area along mid-island and southern portions of Fort Myers Beach. Leonardo Arms Condominium could use the sand after a Declaration of Local Shoreline Emergency was issued from the Department of Environmental Protection two years ago after erosion duress threatened one of its buildings.
"There is still some question with that, so we will work through that," said Keyes. "Once we have the route, we need to do some modeling to see where the most stable location is."
Now that the parameters have been agreed to, Keyes said the next step is to continue to work with West Coast Inland Navigation District, who was responsible for doing the study, in the soil sampling and modeling work.
"From that we can really scope out the project and do a time schedule and cost estimate based on where the (spoils) may be placed and what the route may look like," she said. "At that time, we bring it back to our board of commissioners to get approval for the project.
More questions will be answered once more information is found. At this time, it is unsure if Back Bay areas and canals that are suffering the same fate will benefit from the dredge.
WCIND's Chuck Listowski was present at the meeting and gave insight to that question.
"There needs to be more or less of an analysis of the complexion of the area based on the fact that we really haven't looked at it this way since probably Hurricane Donna came through here and changed everything," he said. "This is actually an infrastructure system that needs to be maintained. As far as turning those data sets (sonar, core) into permit applications, (it has) not yet (been done)."
The proposed dredging project will focus on deeper depths in the channel to start with.
"As we go through the permit process, construction and design, we will probably need to do a little over-dredging, because it will be a mobile system and don't want to re-dredge," said Keyes.
Stakeholders pointed out that the existing channel is narrow and a problem when boaters anchor and fish within it. A wider channel should help with that inconvenience.
Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, a Beach resident and former charter boat captain, knows how troublesome low water can be to those who use the pass. His former business was out of Fish-Tale Marina.
"I can remember when I would take my boat out of here, there was a bump out there. I happen to know that bump has been out there for at least 20 years," he said. "I know how big a deal it is. There were times I couldn't even run (my boat), so I would turn around and go back in."
The Bonita Beach Nourishment Project has already begun and the Lovers Key Nourishment Project will follow right afterwords. Hopes are that permits will be ready for the Big Carlos Pass Dredge Project to follow in line so that the same contractor could be used to save costs.
"That is part of this project now," said Kiker. "That took some doing because it wasn't part of Plan A."
Prior to the meeting, Town Environmental Sciences Coordinator Keith Laakkonen had been involved in discussions with Town Manager Don Stilwell as well as a Lee County officials to discuss the new navigational channel in Big Carlos Pass. Laakkonen has met with County staff to discuss dredging of Big Carlos Pass and created GIS files for management planning.
At the meeting, it was stated that the maintenance permit of the pass could last between 10 to 15 years.
Fish-Tale Marina co-owner Al Durrett has been directly affected by the sand filling into Big Carlos Pass and the Back Bay. A future meeting is expected to be held at the marina once more information is brought forth.
"I've made my living on Estero Bay for 30 years," he said. "Every year, I realize how much more important it is to protect what we have. It is definitely important that we stick together as a group when there is a problem and we talk."