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Cape Coral City Council needs to call a ‘time out’ on removal of the Chiquita Lock

November 21, 2018
Pine Island Eagle

To the editor:

An open letter to Cape Coral Councilmember John M. Carioscia, Sr. District 2:

Mr. Carioscia,

You have been quoted in the press as announcing that Cape Coral plans to go forward with the removal of the Chiquita Boat Lock, citing certain scientific reports from the past two years. You are also quoted as saying that the removal will be the topic of a Council hearing and vote by year's end.

You also were kind enough to respond to an email I sent the Council Members on this topic, which included a copy of a 1973 article by Gerald Ward, P.E., and Charles King, P.E., the engineers of the innovative "perimeter canal" design used in Cape Coral.

Their 1973 article explained the long-term benefit of the spreader canal system, and the north and south spreader barriers.

In your response to my email, you say:

"The man made blockage caused unnatural water flows and erosion, to the point that our ecosystem was so negatively impacted, that our mangroves began losing their soil and slowly began to erode away. This argument was all litigated years ago and subsequently settled in court, with a mandate that these man made obstructions not be replaced."

Thank you for reviewing my email. This honest dialogue is refreshing. However, due to the passage of time, some of our memories of events are not accurate. I have read every single document prepared in the litigation over the Ceitus Boat Lift Barrier and during the effort to mediate the dispute under the most recent FL DEP consent order. In that process, Cape Coral presented expert reports paid for from the Escrow Account set up to maintain the barriers and the North Spreader canal. Those reports were countered by other experts. You can see from the Ward and King article that the western side of the North Spreader canal originally was to contain rip rap and be maintained to address the issue of "breaches" or "canals" developing through the mangroves. Cape Coral neglected to use the Escrow Funds to maintain the canal.

Destruction of the system became a fait accompli. Cape Coral then took $1.5 million from the Escrow Account and put it in its general revenue.

The outcome of the mediation process - contrary to your belief - was that the Ceitus Boat Lift Barrier must be replaced. The Final Report states that restoration of the barrier is favored over all alternatives proposed by Cape Coral. Cape Coral had actually paid for the design of the boat lock. Under the Consent Order, the constituents had the right to insist on restoration of the barrier, which they did unanimously.

Then Cape Coral went back on its promises in the mediation session and worked with FL DEP to avoid replacing the barrier.

A lawsuit was filed to enforce the mediation agreement. That lawsuit was about to be decided in favor of restoring the barrier, when FL DEP issued a one sentence letter in late 2016 saying that Cape Coral was in compliance with the Consent Order. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were then pressured to dismiss the lawsuit without prejudice, and challenged the decision of the FL DEP under the Administrative Procedures Act. Instead of holding a hearing, the FL DEP issued an order saying it does not have jurisdiction to decide whether Cape Coral was in compliance with the Consent Order, sending the plaintiffs in circles. The plaintiffs' resources by then were exhausted, Phil Buchanan had died, and things stopped.

Because of the alarming and devastating water events of the past year, the constituents seeking restoration of these barriers are re-energized. Restoration of the original design actually has many benefits to Cape Coral: increase of canal water levels; increase of canal water quality; avoidance of toppling sea walls in the dry season; prevention of algae in the dead-zones of the canals.

Here is what I suggest to the Council:

Conduct hearings to review the facts regarding the creation of the canal system, the removal of the Ceitus Boat Lift Barrier, and the current status. In fact, I am sure that Gerald Ward, P.E., the intellectual author of the canal system, would be happy to testify. You can have your attorneys or engineers also testify. The Calusa Waterkeeper John Cassani should be invited. This process should distill the facts, and the positions of both sides on how to interpret those facts.

Then the Council can address these issues without prejudice or ignorance of the facts.

Included in this process must also be agreement on the applicable environmental laws with which any action by the Council must comply.

We also understand that Cape Coral residents who have bought property on the canals deserve access to the Matlacha Estuary. The solution is two-fold: restore the barriers with high speed boat locks. The technology is available to handle the anticipated capacity. And, renovate the boat launch at the property now owned by Cape Coral in Matlacha.

BUT, if the Council does not call a "time out" on removal of the Chiquita Boat Lock, this will all descend into the chaos of litigation. The Chiquita Lock issue will be litigated in an administrative proceeding, and then go to the District Court of Appeal. There will also be a lawsuit against Cape Coral under the federal Clean Water Act which will go to federal court.

To engage in a practical dialogue on these issues, the Council must act now. The deadline for our petition to stop removal of the Chiquita Boat Lock is Nov. 28. I urge the Council to take responsibility for these problems, and not point the finger at decisions made by other Council Members in 2007 or later.


Mike Hannon




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