Janes: Long-term plan must protect the Matlacha Pass; County then will likely back boat lift’s removal
Lee County Commissioner Bob Janes believes the commission will back the removal of the Ceitus boat lift in Cape Coral’s northwest spreader system if a long-term plan to protect the Matlacha Pass is put in place.
“I don’t want to hear just empty rhetoric,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “I want to see a specific plan.”
The commission took action last week to stop a consent order and environmental agreement signed by the city, the Florida Department of Environmental Protect, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service which approved the lift’s removal and called for a one-year study to determine the next move.
The lift is designed to preserve the freshwater canal water in the northwest Cape while also protecting adjacent waterways from any possible stormwater pollution.
Janes echoed comments made by Chairman Ray Judah at Monday’s City Council meeting that the commission’s action is not geared toward punishing the Cape.
“It wasn’t intended as a punitive thing towards Cape Coral,” said Janes, who noted that while he represents the southern section of the city, his district also covers Pine Island and Sanibel.
Major breaches, including a 100-foot section directly adjacent to the lift, have severely damaged the system and proponents of the lift’s removal say it is also destroying mangroves because of the speed at which water is flowing past them. The city has argued that the breaches have left the filtration system completely ineffective.
But Janes took issue with that, saying the lift is still holding back some water and straining out possible pollutants from the northwest Cape stormwater.
“There’s still an impeded flow. The volume of canal water (flowing into the pass) is less,” he said.
The commissioner also argued that removing the lift now would set a precedent that could jeopardize the future of the Chiquita lock in the southwest section of the Cape. To keep the lift’s original purpose somewhat intact and protect the mangroves, Janes said artificial piling should be built up in the major breach.
Judah pledged Monday to work with the city as a partner, which he said could include financial assistance in the long-term solution for the spreader. But Janes said the county is not committed at this point to a financial contribution. He added that the city has failed to maintain the spreader system properly and the Cape needs to take point on coming up with a long-term plan to protect a “critical” regional resource.
“If they want us to be a partner, I’d like to see them do some more heavy lifting,” Janes said.
If the county and city, as well as state and federal agencies, come to a solution, a separate petition filed by civic organizations and private citizens could further gum up the works. More than a half dozen organizations across Southwest Florida, most from Pine Island and Sanibel, and a pair of citizens filed the challenge alleging that they would suffer “direct and immediate and irreparable harm” if the lift were removed and dredge work allowed direct access from the canals to the pass.
“It is important that the Cape Coral Ceitus boat lift and North Spreader canal systems be restored to original design specifications and made to function properly for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to provide water quality protection to the aquatic preserve and all of the surrounding receiving tidal water bodies,” the petition states.
The challenge holds up the lift’s removal at least until August, when an administrative hearing can be scheduled. Judah told the council that the situation will never have to get to that stage, and Janes promised Tuesday to get the other groups to stand down if the county and city come to a resolution.
“We might be able to talk to those environmental groups,” he said, “but there has to be a plan of action.”