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SCCF recommends replacement of Ceitus Boat Lift

By Staff | Jul 30, 2010

The Ceitus Boat Lift before it was removed. The blow-out of the mangroves to the left side of the lift can be seen clearly.

In March 2008, SCCF joined ten other petitioners to challenge a decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that allowed the City of Cape Coral to remove a required stormwater barrier in the North Spreader/Ceitus canal in Cape Coral.

The barrier, required by DEP Consent Order, was designed to protect the coastal waters of Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve from Cape Coral’s stormwater runoff and drainage through the westernmost canal. The petitioners agreed to enter into a mediation process called an Ecosystem Management Approach (EMA) in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

The purpose of the EMA process was to develop a suite of projects that would provide an alternative to the replacement of the barrier in the north spreader/Ceitus canal. The collection of projects would need to provide a Net Environmental Benefit (NEB) for the protection and benefit of the Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve ecosystem above and beyond the replacement of the stormwater barrier.

SCCF agreed to participate in this process with great hopes that a meaningful suite of basin wide projects could be developed to address issues including water quality, water quantity, timing of water discharges and habitat restoration.

To our great disappointment after two years of meeting and negotiating in earnest with the diverse stakeholders we find that the suite of NEB projects the City of Cape Coral is willing to commit to falls short of that critical threshold of providing an NEB. Therefore, we have voted to recommend replacement of the barrier at an upland location.

To qualify as an NEB projects needed to provide:  1) A quantifiable benefit; 2) A timeline to achieve the project benefit; 3) A commitment that is enforceable; and 4) More than is already required. A final list and description of the NEB’s that the City of Cape Coral has proposed is outlined in the report dated June 22, 2010  [Section 4, outlining the NEBs, can be found on our website: www.sccf.org/content/133/Cape-Coral-Ceitus-Boat-Lift.aspx]. 

Over the past two years, the details and inventory of projects has been negotiated and changed on a monthly basis. In the two year process a number of beneficial proposals were recommended but were subsequently watered down or dismissed by Cape Coral.

To qualify, projects had to have a sponsor willing to take responsibility for implementation. Only projects with a sponsor were discussed in depth while “orphan” project ideas were simply listed in the final report. Projects were divided into two groups 1) those that would be the sole responsibility of Cape Coral and 2) those that the City would partner with other government agencies to complete.

Because the Consent Order is between DEP and the City, only the Cape Coral projects are required and enforceable under the DEP Consent Agreement. The projects with other partners would not be legally binding or enforceable. Therefore the Cape Coral projects need to provide an NEB on their own. In this way, the NEB threshold projects would be enforceable and additional projects could add value if they were completed, but since the other partners could not be held accountable, if the additional projects were not completed the NEB would have been met by the Cape Coral projects.

The final list of NEBs proposed by Cape Coral includes seven initiatives.  Unfortunately, in our opinion only one, the fertilizer ordinance, provides the level of detail and commitment to meet the threshold to qualify as an NEB.

The greatest missed opportunities were sewering and stormwater projects because at 114 square miles Cape Coral is the second largest city by land area in the state.  Residential units are zoned at a density of 4.36 units per acre abutting over 400 miles of canals, placing septic systems in very close proximity to the water table with limited water quality treatment. 

Stormwater systems also drain into the canals,   washing everything from the land into the water. Unfortunately, Cape Coral would not adopt sewer or stormwater projects strong enough to meet the basic requirements established for being a Net Environmental Benefit.

Although we had great hopes that a meaningful suite of projects could be developed to benefit our natural resources, the suite of projects falls woefully short of the critical threshold of providing a Net Environmental Benefit and therefore we must recommend replacement of the barrier.