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Blind Pass: An idle dredge is the devil’s play thing

By Staff | Jul 16, 2009

The Captiva Erosion Prevention District (CEPD) is an important stakeholder and a major financer (35 percent) of the Blind Pass project; as such we have expressed concerns to Lee County about the Blind Pass Restoration Project status.

As CEPD Chairman, I have received many questions and reports of concern, besides my own observations, that progress towards completion of Blind Pass restoration appears stalled. While we are hopeful of soon breaking the log jam, the obvious lack of progress appears due to use of a contractor with limited capability, including Contractor’s persistent use of an undersized 10-inch dredge which struggles in even the moderate wave conditions of an ebb shoal. As well, there appear to be institutional assumptions that inhibit altering course when it is widely obvious the current course is adrift and/or stalling.

Operations of the 10-inch dredge have frequently been stopped by typical Gulf waves barely over 1 foot; such waves and larger are more and more likely to occur as we lead into our season of peak tropical weather. In addition, the contractor’s production rate proved marginal even when dredging in protected waters.

Despite slow production rates, opportunities to operate off hours were seldom employed. There were project issues including the shortage of a second pump which resulted in using only one undersized dredge when the expected two dredges were on location. As well, malfunctioning equipment contributed to delays even when dredging in the less than challenging aspects of the project template, to wit the protected area landward of the sheet pile wall.

CEPD are concerned that continued dredging of the ebb shoal channel of Blind Pass under these conditions appears to be quite slow, although it is somewhat encouraging to finally see dredging in the Gulf these last few days. This is especially of concern given the potential that the newly dredged channel appears to be filling in, perhaps as fast as or faster than the undersized dredge can pump.

It is possible, that dredging the rest of July even with perfect seas may not advance the project at the rate the project plan anticipated; more than likely waves may be pushing sand back into the channel, without benefit of the velocity of the countervailing inlet currents to keep the channel clear. Admittedly, as a financial rather than management partner, CEPD do not have access to all the relevant facts that Lee County and their engineers and contractor enjoy, nevertheless we have to ask whether removing the remaining sheet piles on an outgoing tide will offer a better chance that an appropriate sized dredge can finish the dredging given the anticipated assistance of the resulting inlet tidal currents.

As stated, CEPD and its engineering consultants do not have sufficient information to accurately gauge the situation. Lee County and its engineering consultant know the conditions at the pass far better than we do, but we urge re-evaluating whether the project outcomes can be timely and appropriately achieved under such conditions as have prevailed.

We think there is need to consider whether design and execution practices should be changed to improve the outcome; this is especially obvious since the contractor has been making dubious progress in the Gulf.

This recommended re-evaluation should consider:

1 – The current estimate to finish dredging the inlet is based upon the Lee County project manager’s recent status report, viz. that in excess of 8,000 cubic yards remain. However the facts are vague, so in fact this number may indeed be higher. How accurate/reliable is this estimate? Have the requisite surveys been performed to validate the accuracy of the estimate? Do we know how much sand has actually in-filled the dredged channel (seaward of the sheet-piles)? And, is this volume of in-filled (previously dredged) sand included in the estimate? Living within a short distance of the inlet, I regularly observe the area and have concerns re with the quantity of in-filling which appears to be occurring.

2 – Perhaps the estimated construction time can be reduced by re-evaluating the design channel cross-section before or after the sheet piles are pulled. Since there is an estimated 40,000 cy for a cleanup sweep in August (or later) a re-evaluation of the dredge template in light of the equilibrate channel after the sheet pile is removed may show that the actions of the inlet current obviates the need to dredge the entire template; if so, less dredging will positively affect the schedule. The equilibrated channel may in fact move to the side of the design channel, creating new cross-section area outside the design channel.

3 – Given the prospect of the potential gains to be had from the equilibrated channel, perhaps the timing for pulling the remaining sheet piles should be reconsidered and accelerated. An outstanding question in this regard would be whether or not the FDEP will give favorable consideration to permitting this action?

4 – Cost effectiveness of using contractors liquidated damages potentially to be assessed due to delays and the opportunity of cost savings to engage a third party to finish the dredging using more appropriately sized dredge. If a better dredge is not available until later, would it not be better to stop the current contractor and wait for the availability of the bigger dredge (latest slipped completion date was July 8)? We have asked Lee County and Contractor over these last six months or so to consider using a 15-inch dredge; which is able to reliably operate in the Gulf in our usual seas. We have also advised that such a dredge is operating in Matanzas Pass and may in fact be available next month or in September.

5 – Contingent upon facts not yet obvious to the CEPD and perhaps available to Lee County and its Contractor, perhaps the best course is simply to accept that the contractor will complete the project at his own pace and cost, paying for the County’s staff and consultants additional costs using the liquidated damages due under the project contract as well as other charges and savings.

6 – Re-evaluate institution policies and barriers to change, as current methods are inhibiting the desired outcome.