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Smalltooth sawfish issue topic of discussion

By Staff | Nov 18, 2010

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, city staff and National Marine Fisheries Service officials are going to meet next Monday to discuss permitting requirements for seawalls and docks as it pertains to the smalltooth sawfish.
Tunis McElwain from the Army Corp’s Fort Myers regulatory office called the meeting “routine,” but the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association is worried that changes will become a detriment to future construction.
CCCIA Executive Director Heather Mazurkiewcz said the Army Corps of Engineers directed the city not to issues permits for seawalls that include rip-rap, which defies previous requirements that called for rip-rap.
McElwain said the Army Corps “has not directed the city to do anything,” and is instead looking to examine the city’s “blanket permit” for seawalls and docks.
McElwain said the permit was instituted prior to the Cape’s waters being declared a “critical habitat” for the smalltooth sawfish.
“We’re going to try and work through the issues as best we can, and come up with solutions that allows development and protects the habitat,” he added.
McElwain also said there’s some concern the rip-rap might prove a problem for juvenile sawfish, as it doesn’t “allow them to settle down and forage.”
Mazurkiewicz said the Army Corps of Engineers is focusing too heavily on a single species, and not looking at the marine habitat as a whole.
“They’re disregarding the environment and only looking at a single species. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Mazurkiewicz said.
The CCCIA is worried, too, that the designation of the critical habitat could mean the blanket permit will be pulled, and seawall and dock construction could cease indefinitely.
Doing so, she said, will take away from those looking to build on one of the city’s most vaunted features: water-front living.
“If we can’t build seawalls or it becomes so costly to homeowners, we’re losing out on what Cape Coral is all about,” she said. “It’s a loss of quality of life component we use to sell Cape Coral.”
City biologist Connie Jarvis said the meeting was set to clarify the use of rip-rap within the permitting process.
The confusion, she said, is that rip-rap is beneficial to some, if not most, species in Cape waters.
“Rip-rap is great for everything except for the sawfish,” she said.