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Marine contractors wary of federal sawfish rules

By Staff | Feb 12, 2009

For marine construction companies in Southwest Florida, work is a precious commodity during the current housing crisis.
When a job building a seawall or dock is found, the permits must be pulled. In Cape Coral, the process can take about one week, but some local marine contractors fear new federal rules regulating the habitat of the smalltooth sawfish will prolong the process by two years.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service is in the process of drafting a recovery plan for the smalltooth sawfish. A draft of the plan released in January identifies all the canals south of Pine Island Road as a critical habitat for the smalltooth sawfish.
“Rather than our permit application simply going to Cape Coral, it would be sent to NOAA. It’s not uncommon for that process to take two years,” said Michael McCartney, owner of American Marine Construction.
The smalltooth sawfish is listed as an endangered species and according to the NOAA’s Web site, its current population is confined to Florida coastal waters. The species once stretched from Texas, along the Gulf of Mexico around Florida, up to Cape Hatteras, N.C., along the Eastern seaboard.
Patti Schnell, executive director of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, said NOAA officials have said permitting processes will not become more bureaucratic, but she doubts that claim.
“We, of course, are suspect of that. One more government agency will then have to review the permit,” she said.
McCartney and Schnell said an extended permitting process would further damage an industry already hurting from the housing crisis.
“It is certainly true that when they get work to do, they want to get to work right away,” Schnell said.
“It could be devastating,” McCartney said.
Those wishing to provide input on the issue can submit comments by visiting: www.regulations.gov, clicking on the “Search for Dockets” tab at the top of the screen, then entering the Regulatory Information Number 0648-AV74, and clicking the “Submit” tab.
NOAA experts on the smalltooth sawfish were unavailable for comment Thursday.