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Official: County will work with Cape on Ceitus boat lift issue; Commissioner speaks of long-term solution to save mangroves, waters

By Staff | Apr 1, 2008

The chairman of the Lee County Commission defended action it took last week to stop the removal of the Ceitus boat lift but also pledged to work as quickly as possible, with the city, to come to a long-term solution to preserve water quality and stop damage to mangroves in the area.

Speaking at Monday’s City Council meeting, Commissioner Ray Judah apologized for not alerting anyone from the Cape about the county’s action before a vote was taken Tuesday, but said the commission felt like it was under the gun and had to do something to keep all options open.

“I certainly apologize for the way it was done, but I have to tell you that we felt we were under time constraints,” he said, noting that a petition had to be filed by Monday to freeze the work order. “Lee County just felt that there were significant ramifications if the Ceitus boat lift were removed.”

The county filed the appeal Wednesday, which effectively blocks the lift removal until a hearing, tentatively scheduled for August. Both the council and city staff expressed concern that the timeline could lead to additional mangrove damage, but Judah promised to come to a resolution far before that date.

“We’ll never get to that administrative hearing, we’re going to get this resolved,” he said. “This is an issue we have to resolve immediately.”

Northwest Cape residents and member of council criticized the commission and environmentalists from Pine Island and Matlacha who led the charge to put the brakes on the lift’s removal.

“They waited until the 11th hour and they came with half the facts,” said geologist David Scott. “From where I come from, when you tell only half the truth then you’re manipulating people and your trying to mislead them.”

“I think it was a great ploy on their part because it leaves you with a situation where you feel like you had to act,” Councilmember Tim Day said.

Scott pointed out that numerous breaches in the spreader system are growing rapidly, especially a 100-foot wide breach right next to the lift. Boaters can completely avoid the lift by navigating through the breach to enter Matlacha Pass.

“We are not retaining the stormwater, it is flowing through the cut,” said Councilmember Pete Brandt. “It is not functioning at all with that cut there. It’s presence is exacerbating that cut.”

Judah conceded that the lift is not performing its original task — to retain the canal freshwater system and prevent pollution from streaming into county waters — but blamed the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for that.

“If (the spreader) had been properly maintained, we wouldn’t be having this issue today,” he said. “It would fully function.”

Cape Coral signed off on an agreement late last month that called for the lift’s removal, analysis of water quality levels and an environmental management agreement to come to a long-term solution.

FDEP, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers concurred with the city’s plan.

Northwest Neighborhood Association President Rick Williams slammed the commission and argued that it “effectively negated” all the work, time and money spent by the city as well as the Army Corps and environmental agencies.

“We’ve got all these entities that have lined up with the city of Cape Coral and we have another government body, our own county commission, coming against us,” Day said.

Judah backed off the idea that the county was taking a stance at loggerheads with the Cape. He said the commission just wants a chance to take a step back, evaluate the whole situation and work with the city as a partner on the issue politically and financially.

“This is not a hostile challenge. It is a recognition that we all need to come to the table,” said Judah.