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Challenge to stop removal of Chiquita Lock moving forward

January 9, 2019
Pine Island Eagle

To the editor:

The challenge to removal of the Chiquita Lock by Cape Coral is moving to a hearing in early March of this year. The Matlacha Civic Association and seven individuals from Cape Coral, Matlacha and Pine Island have filed a legal challenge to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's [DEP] approval for the City of Cape Coral to remove the Chiquita Boat Lock.

The challengers say that removal of the Chiquita Lock will cause damage to the waters, fish, fowl and mangroves of the Matlacha Estuary and the Caloosahatchee River.

Cape Coral wants to remove the Chiquita Lock so weekend boaters will not experience delays getting through the lock. The challengers say the damage to our waters far outweighs the inconvenience to these weekend boaters. Instead, Cape Coral should install a new high-speed boat lock, such as the one already designed by the City in 2007.

The Petition filed by the challengers calls for DEP to follow its original order from 1977. In the 1970s, DEP halted the Cape Coral canal digging by Gulf American Corporation [GAC] because the prolific dredging threatened major degradation of the mangroves and estuaries. Back then, DEP brought the largest environmental enforcement action in the history of the state, imposing massive fines on GAC and putting it into bankruptcy.

Under Consent Order No. 15 issued in 1977, DEP forced GAC to deed thousands of acres of mangrove wetlands to the State of Florida for preservation. GAC also was required to construct a water retention system including the North and South Spreader Canals, the Ceitus Boat Lift Barrier and the Chiquita Boat Lock. These serve as a water distribution system for Cape Coral to buffer, treat and improve water quality before it reaches the Matlacha Pass and the Caloosahatchee River.

However, the Department of Environmental Protection, joined by the city of Cape Coral, has filed a motion in the case to strike any reference to its own 1977 Consent Order. DEP and Cape Coral say the Consent Order is "irrelevant and immaterial," and the hearing judge may not consider it.

Karl R. Deigert, president of the Matlacha Civic Association, says the challengers will oppose the motion. "It's time for politics to step aside. The Consent Order of 1977 was intended to preserve Cape Coral's most important fresh water resource, the 400 miles of canals. Restoration of the original system will increase canal levels and begin the process of remediating damage to the mangrove wetlands. Long-term retention of the water will sequester and eliminate pollutants and restore freshwater sheetflow to the mangroves."

The Matlacha Civic Association is helping to fund the challenge from its environmental fund, originally established in 2016.

J. Michael Hannon




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