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North spreader ecosystem tour set for Friday

By Staff | Mar 24, 2010

If the weather cooperates a tour of the northwest spreader ecosystem is scheduled for Friday, giving some stakeholders the shot at seeing firsthand what 20 months of hardscrabble negotiations have been working to save.
But as the negotiation process has unfolded over that time frame, the various stakeholders have found themselves in a constant push and pull trying to work out what most see as a complex and tricky agreement.
Depending on who’s asked, a stakeholder meeting at city hall on Tuesday either moved the agreement closer to reality, or pushed it even further away.
“I think we went backwards yesterday,” said Council member Pete Brandt, who represents Cape Coral as a stakeholder. “It’s getting to the point where I think it’s not going to work.”
As discussions turned to septic systems and the inevitable installation of central sewers during Tuesday’s meeting, that familiar push and pull applied itself to the compromise that must be reached if those septic systems will one day be replaced.
Activist and stakeholder representative Phil Buchanan said he was pleased with Tuesday’s meeting, so much so that until then he thought the entire process was going to be a failure.
The question, Buchanan said, was not if central sewers needed to be installed, but when.
“The big key is to design the study,” Buchanan said of a study that would determine at what point central sewers were needed. As of now, no independent third party study exists to determine at what point water quality is affected.
“The arrangement we talked about in the salt water area is 35 percent, and the rest at 45 percent,” Buchanan added.
A final decision on the agreement was expected early this year, but now it seems as if the finalized agreement has been pushed back.
The group plans on meeting again in two weeks to continue negotiations, which will also include discussing what to do with the mangrove component of the agreement.
Mangrove protection is mandated by state law to prevent erosion. Some stakeholders want mangroves along all seawalls, while others feel a certain percentage would do.
The eco-system management process, at its core, it trying to find a way from keeping fresh water from mixing with the salt water of the spreader, using a series of projects that will protect the estuary.
The city previously had a barrier and boat lift installed to keep this from happening, but was eventually removed, and was followed by a number of breaches that comtributed to the problem.
Despite the setbacks and disagreements among stakeholders, one city engineer feels the group has done what they set out to do: solve the problems.
Oliver Clarke, who also represents the city in the stakeholder process, said the decision needs to be made and the agreement finished.
“The NSEMA (North Spreader Eco-system Management Area) objective was to define projects which provided a greater net environmental benefit than putting the barrier back,” Clarke said. “Over the past 20 months, this has been accomplished.”