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Residents updated on status of Blind Pass

By Staff | Feb 16, 2011

Robert Neal of the Lee County Department of Natural Resources and Blind Pass project manager, discusses the possibility of maintenance dredging at the site taking place this summer.

In response to a growing public outcry for more information, the Bayous Preservation Association and Lee County Department of Natural Resources held a forum at The Sanctuary Golf Club last Wednesday evening to discuss the status of Blind Pass.

More than 200 people attended the 90-minute presentation, which was followed by a question-and-answer session.

“We are really concerned about the whole ecosystem, rather than just the pass,” said John McCabe, representative of the Bayous Preservation Association. “Blind Pass is essential in sustaining a much larger ecosystem.”

The meeting, led by Blind Pass project manager Robert Neal, a coastal engineer with the Lee County Department of Natural Resources, included a PowerPoint presentation depicting the former status of the pass, the project’s conceptual goals and its current condition.

According to Neal, the project’s primary goal was to create a stable pass opening, with a five-year maintenance schedule, increasing water circulation in Clam and Dinkins Bayous, improvement of the mangrove habitats, sea grasses and marine life and shorebirds found adjacent to the pass.

“If the fish can come in, then we’ll consider that to be a stable opening,” said Neal, who noted that boat navigation is not a requirement of the pass but “a positive by-product.”

During his presentation, Neal explained that the $2.5 million project called for the removal of 127,000 cubic yards of sand from the dredge template. Lee County removed 148,000 cubic yards and dredged the permitted template to its limits, except for approximately three percent on the Sanibel side, which was not dredged due to a dispute with a local property owner.

After the pass was open for six months, the flood tide velocity was 2.7 feet/second. The ebb tide velocity was 2.9 feet/second. This did not meet the 3 feet/second goal, but the pass was performing well. Neal noted that the velocity was higher on ebb than flood, more scouring than shoaling was occurring, and a net loss of 5,000 cubic yards of sand meant the channel was sweeping itself as it migrated toward Sanibel.

“We saw significant shoaling in the channel itself,” he said. “However, we saw even more scouring than we did shoaling.”

On the one year anniversary of the opening, back in October, officials did another survey and determined that both the flood and ebb tide velocities dropped to 1.5 feet/second, so velocities were well below the “magic number” of 3 feet/second. Neal explained that this drop in velocities is of concern and an indicator that the pass is under increased stress.

However, the sudden infill of Blind Pass, witnessed over the past three months, has caused a fair amount of concern among the project’s partners, including Lee County, the City of Sanibel and the Captiva Erosion Prevention District (CEPD).

A permit modification, which Neal stated was submitted by Lee County in October, would widen the footprint outside the bridge so the channel is 50 feet wider on the Captiva side, allowing more area for sediment bypassing the jetty to fill in. A sand placement site farther down Sanibel, near Bowman’s Beach, has also been added so that sand does not as readily migrate back into the pass.

Neal hopes that, if the required permits are approved by June of this year, then maintenance dredging of Blind Pass can take place by September.

Until then, officials have promised to continue monitoring efforts at the pass.

“Our goal is to have this maintained naturally,” Neal added. “That would be great… and less expensive. But obviously that’s not going to happen.”

Fielding questions from the audience, Neal said that adding a jetty along the Sanibel (south) side of the pass would likely result in “creating or adding adverse impacts to sediment transport.”

“Sanibel and Captiva are sandbars. They are barrier islands and you are going to see sand moving in and out,” he said. “Blind Pass is a natural channel — it’s gonna do what it’s gonna do.”

According to the most recent newsletter of the Bayous Preservation Association, issued on Friday, “Robert Neal addressed the audience honestly (and with great fortitude), explaining Lee County’s approach at this time. We at the BPA appreciate his update and his frankness in delivering some news that no one wanted to hear: the possibility of the pass closing temporarily before the next maintenance dredge can be implemented.”

Neal stated that his office will make an attempt at attending CEPD meetings on a regular basis, hoping to keep the public well informed throughout the maintenance and monitoring process.

“The Bayous Preservation Association remains committed to an open pass and will continue to work with Lee County, Captiva and Sanibel so that all of us who live in or visit the Blind Pass area can count on a stable and healthy marine ecosystem,” the BPA newsletter concluded.

In addition, Lee County will be giving weekly updates on the pass and permitting process so that information is current. This info can be viewed on the Lee County website, at www.Lee-County.com. Click on “Blind Pass Maintenance Dredging” in the left-hand column for the weekly report.