North Spreader solution near?
Finding a natural balance for the North Spreader Ecosystem is just as complex as finding balance among the mad tangle of stakeholders who are working toward an agreement to protect the delicate estuary in the northwest Cape.
The EMAP, or Ecosystem Management Agreement Process, is made up of 10 separate entities, each with a vested interest in the project.
Along with another eight entities which are indirectly involved (some are offshoots of the 10 stakeholders), the group has labored for a year to find a solution to keeping freshwater in canals from mixing with saltwater from the fragile estuary.
“If we were 100 miles apart before, we’re four miles apart now,” said Oliver Clarke, a Cape Coral city engineer working on the project. “We’ve made enormous progress, but we’re not there yet.”
The North Spreader Ecosystem consists of 117 square miles of back bays and estuaries, from Cape Coral north into Charlotte County.
Fifty-six square miles is located within the city limits, while 35 square miles is located in Charlotte County, and an additional 26 square miles sits in Lee County outside of the city limits.
The city of Cape Coral, the South Florida Water Management District, Charlotte County Growth Management, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation and the Southwest Florida Watershed Council are but a few of the parties involved in the arduous process of finding a Net Ecosystem Benefit, or NEB.
At the heart of the struggle is a breach in the city’s Ceitus boat lift, allowing water, and all the pollutants, to flow freely between the freshwater canals into the saltwater estuary.
The debate began as to whether the boat lift should be replaced, and if those repairs would ultimately fix a decaying berm system along the north spreader canals.
“There was a determination that it might not be feasible,” said Dr. Tom Taylor, associate director of a Tallahassee based conflict consortium.
The FCRC, or Florida Conflict Resolution Consortium, acts as facilitators for situations with large numbers of interests, just like the North Spreader Ecosystem.
“The question became: was it better to take the money to put the barrier back, about $3 million, or to use that money for other projects that would produce a net ecosystem benefit.” Taylor said.
Though still in the works, the agreement calls for Cape Coral to adopt a fertilizer ordinance, amend seawall engineering design standards, develop condition-based timing of a public sewer system, stormwater treatment improvements, maintain dredging, and implement boating-related enhancements.
Council member Pete Brandt, representing the council in the agreement process, said it’s been a series of highs and lows trying to hammer out the details.
By the time the agreement does reach city council for vote, the dais will have at least two new faces. But Brandt said things were moving along nicely, as the Cape contingent worked on its part of the agreement
“At the last meeting I went from encouragement to despair back to encouragement again. But we made a few concessions, and I think it seemed like we got more reception,” Brandt said. “I think we got pretty close to the final draft.”
Environmental advocates like the Audubon of SWFL, the Caloosahatchee Riverwatch, and Calusa Land Trust have long warned that runoff from fertilizers and septic systems will destroy the delicate balance of the estuary.
Master Naturalist Phil Buchanen of Pine Island said he hopes that Cape Coral’s fertilizer ordinance will mirror that of the county, but stemming runoff is only half the solution.
To keep the ecosystem safe, all the natural deterrent must be rebuilt.
“We need a program to bring it back. We need to take those now salt water canals and get mangroves and oysters and remake that natural environment,” he said. “Its not as hard as it sounds. You plant mangroves, oysters will introduce themselves, and sooner or later it starts looking natural again.”
Like Brandt, Taylor, and Clarke, Phil Buchanen thinks the group has been making large strides in working out the agreement.
The stakeholders plan on meeting for what they hope will be the final time in either late October, or early November.
If a consensus is reached, the agreement will then go before the governing bodies of the various stakeholders to be voted upon.
Whether the agreement will be approved remains to be seen, but Oliver Clarke thinks since the group has been able to make some concessions throughout the process, something positive is bound to happen.
“The group has come an enormous way since last summer,” Clarke said. “We would have looked out the window and disagreed on whether or not it was daylight out.”