County votes in favor of replacing spreader barrier
Lee County commissioners unanimously voted in favor of replacing the Ceitus Boat lift/barrier on Tuesday, a move that came as a surprise to Cape Coral CouncilmemberPete Brandt who said he expected support on the county level.
Cape Coral City council voted to support the NEB – or Net Ecosystem Benefit- projects Monday night with a 6 – 2 vote.
“I¹m kind of disappointed,” Brandt said. “I thought for sure we had their support.”
Lee County and the city were two of the 20 “stakeholders” who have tried for more than two years to devise a mitigation plan for the area.
The Northwest Spreader Ecosystem Management Agreement, or NSEMA, process combined public and private entities for that purpose, but little consensus was derived and participating groups and organizations often locked horns.
A majority of the stakeholders have already voted in favor of replacing the barrier, virtually bringing the process back to where it began.
Now the participating groups will likely lock horns in court, and any real action for the spreader will be delayed for years.
Rhonda Hague of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Tuesday the barrier will not be replaced until things are settled in court.
“There will probably be litigation,” Hague said.
Commissioner John Manning said he didn’t think the state would fight replacing the structure, which was removed by the city after it failed.
Breaches around the failed barrier had allowed water behind the barrier to flow into environmentally sensitive waters. At issue is whether the barrier is to be replaced or whether the estuaries in question can be better protected through other means, including a strict fertilizer ordinance, better filtration through revamped seawall regulations and trigger points at which additional septic systems would not be allowed.
He said replacing the barrier provides some immediate impact, but that’s only if the state doesn¹t challenge the stakeholders’ consensus.
“I don’t think the Department of Environmental Protection will challenge this,” Manning said. “I’d be very surprised if they did.”
Commission Chairwoman Tammy Hall said she felt the city needed to continue to move ahead with the NEB projects even if the barrier is replaced.
Doing so, she said, would be “the right thing to do,” and agreed that replacing the structure would provide some immediate protection, despite her fears that it will breach yet again.
“I hope we can regroup and find out how we can deal with this long term,” Hall said.
City Council voted to support the project on Monday.
Brandt said he felt the state would not support replacing the barrier.
Rhonda Hague from DEP said the state preferred the NEB projects, but will support the stakeholders’ consensus.
“If they go with the barrier, we go with them,” Hague said.
South DEP Director John Iglehart could not be reached for comment.