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Officials predict city will pay for boat lock; Councilmembers move forward on discussing funding options

By Staff | Mar 19, 2008

Already in tough financial straits, Cape Coral will most likely have to pay for a new lock in the southwest spreader system, a majority of the City Council agreed Monday.

Many elected officials have professed concern in solely funding a new lock, priced last year at costing $14 million, especially when some experts believe it is not necessary for the Caloosahatchee’s water quality.

Mayor Eric Feichthaler has asked state officials in the Department of Environmental Protection and has lobbied the governor’s office to approve the removal of the lock or help pay for a new one. But Florida appears dead set on forcing the city to build and completely fund a new lock.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re on our own on this issue,” said Councilmember Dolores Bertolini.

About 100 southwest Cape residents showed their support for a new lock at Monday’s council workshop meeting, backing Cape Harbour developer Will Stout’s position that it is time to get started on the project. Stout said he and the community were promised that a new municipally funded lock would be in place several years ago, and that the council must take action now that the design plans are in hand.

“This should not become a political football or a divisive issue in the community,” said Stout. “The decision was made years ago and billions of dollars were invested in homes and Cape Harbour Marina based on that decision.”

“I believe we have made that pledge and I believe we have to go forward with the lock,” Feichthaler said. “(But) we have to be able to do it more cheaply than $14 million.”

All parties agreed that the price should drop to somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million after rebidding the entire project. But finding funding sources may be tough.

“The price we have, close to $15 million, was garnered at a time when construction costs were significantly higher,” Stewart said. “There are no specific revenues that one would tie to this, like a road fee or gas tax, so this would come out of the general fund.”

Stout blamed the lock’s necessity on senior DEP officials who see it as a “pet project.” He added that the existing lock could be expanded to fit the new size requirements for far less than the estimated cost of a new one. But, Stout said, that is the “environmental price tag” in a “crazy world.”

Some on the council posed the idea of redesigning the lock, but Stout demurred. He said the plans took years to complete, and that the time for bidding and construction is now.

“Anything that is done aside from building the present plans, along with some value engineering, I believe is a mistake,” Stout said. “This should not be allowed to continue as a culture of procrastination.”

Paying for the project could become a political hot potato, especially after the council approved a $23 million public safety building later Monday night.

Some elected officials floated the idea of assessments or user fees to help offset the burden on the general fund. Councilmember Tim Day said an annual $20 fee for all boat owners could take a bite out of the new lock’s cost and compel the city to borrow less money to pay for it.

“Folks, it’s going to be a way to help in the funding,” he said. “You have to have another mechanism to pay for this aside from general fund dollars.”

An annual fee could also help offset the cost of a new lift in the northwestern part of the Cape if the state requires a replacement for the Ceitus boat lift, which will be removed in several weeks.

Stout said the neighborhood has already paid for a new lock in full with the tax money it has handed over to the city, but some on the council said it is unfair to burden residents who do not have access to the spreader or a boat.

“I have had numerous phone calls that are not in the boating community and they have said flat out, ‘Don’t charge me, I’m not in the boating community,'” said Bertolini.