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Planners approve Sanibel Estates canal dredging

By Staff | Feb 12, 2009

At the conclusion of a public hearing on Tuesday, the Sanibel Planning Commission gave its unanimous approval to an application for a variance to the Land Development Code that will allow for the dredging of a dead end, man-made canal in Sanibel Estates that has been neglected for a number of years.

The application, submitted by the newly-created East Branch Canal Home

Owners Association, Inc., which represents the interests of the seven homeowners at the dead end of the canal, also provides for the removal and trimming of mangroves, the construction of boat docks on the seven member properties, and the replacement of a small foot-bridge that gives pedestrians easy access to the beach.

The properties involved are located at 350, 404, 420, and 424 East Gulf Drive, and 433, 439 and 449 Lagoon Drive.

Sanibel Department of Natural Resources Director Rob Loflin painted a vivid picture of the canal’s condition for the Planning Commission, describing a waterway so grown over with mangroves, that they nearly met in the middle. According to Loflin, the canal was barely navigable by canoe, and required frequent maneuvering by holding mangrove branches and other vegetation out of the way.

“In another five years, we could have declared this to be a mangrove forest,” he said.

In addition to the mangroves, uncleared debris from hurricanes Charley in 2004 and Wilma in 2005 have littered the waterway further with organic material, which has settled to the bottom of the canal.

Loflin went on to recount another visit that he made to the canal on the invitation of Hans Wilson, whose company – Hans Wilson and Associates, Inc. – is the principal designer, consultant and overseer of the proposed project.

“Hans was nice enough to take me on an enlightening tour of this canal system, waist-deep in water and mud,” said Loflin. “As sediment has built up, there is a world-class stank emanating from the bottom. If dredging is approved, there must be some form of odor control.”

Loflin told the Commission that he worked with the applicants to come up with a plan that would save as many mangroves as possible, while allowing the re-construction of a navigable canal.

“I believe the applicants have put forth a project that has addressed all concerns,” said Loflin. “I believe it’s a good balance. By minimizing damage to mangroves, you have a narrower channel, but the canal will be open to navigation with small boats.

“We need to be flexible,” added Loflin. “In this case, I do believe that this variance issue, if allowed, will be more environmentally beneficial to the island. And in keeping with that, I support this variance and support the applicants’ mitigation plan, which I believe is appropriate for the damage that will be done.”

In order to mitigate the damage that the project will cause to the existing mangroves, the proposal calls for the planting of mangroves in the Clam Bayou Restoration Area, which is an area adjacent to Bowman’s Beach. The total number of mangroves to be planted will be determined by a carefully recorded count of the number of mangroves removed in the canal.

Wilson acknowledged that his company and their contractors had their work cut out for them if the project was approved.

“There is a high degree of organic matter, that absorbs the oxygen out of water,” he explained. “There were never any seawalls, so sediment just accumulated at the bottom of the waterway, and we have our work cut out to handle this material.”

The plan calls for the collection and dewatering of dredged spoil material in the yard of one of the home owners, and then trucking the debris off-island for disposal. Wilson estimated that the project would take 60 to 90 days to complete, and that a foot bridge for easy pedestrian access to the beach would be out of commission for two weeks or more.

Commissioner Patty Sprankle voiced a concern over the extension of proposed docks into the waterway by up to 49 percent of the canal’s width, but Planning Director Bob Duffy explained that the increased dock length was necessary in order to save the mangroves.

“What we’ve put forward is balance, with minimal mangrove disruption,” he said.

City Attorney Kenneth Cuyler explained that this was a unique situation.

“This is a dead end canal, and all property owners are in on this,” he said. “In essence, we will not be setting a precedent for another applicant for variance. This is distinctly different and unique.”

Chairman Michael Valiquette commended the staff of both the Planning Department and the Department of Natural Resources for the thoroughness of their reports. The application for variance was approved unanimously, with Commissioner Tom Krekel absent. The completed resolution will be brought back before the Planning Commission at its next meeting on Feb. 24.