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Commission seeks administrative hearing over Ceitus barrier

By Staff | May 24, 2011

Lee County Commissioners moved ahead with plans to challenge the Department of Environmental Protection Tuesday, filing a petition for an administrative hearing that would counter the agency’s denial of a permit to replace the Ceitus barrier.
The DEP denied Cape Coral’s permit application on May 11 after they said it did not meet with state water quality efforts.
The county had 21 days to file the petition. According to county documentation, the county will spend $68,500 on retaining engineering and environmental experts and $6,500 on legal services in support of the petition.
Commissioner Brian Bigelow said the barrier needs to be replaced but he was concerned about the amount of time it would take to go through the administrative hearing process.
“Time will be working against us in this process and that concerns me,” he said. “Because this barrier was removed, we allowed some very unnatural actions by man to impact our natural, native environment.”
It’s unknown how long the administrative hearing process will take, but Pine Island activist Phil Buchanan said the Northwest Spreader system was not designed for water quality, but instead as a distribution system that’s supposed to keep the fresh water mixing with the salt water of the estuary.
Buchanan called the fresh water “deadly” to the estuary, and that as the water continues to mix the system will “no longer function” as a healthy estuary.
Buchanan was a stakeholder in the Northwest Spreader Ecosystem Management Agreement process, that attempted, and failed, to find an equitable alternative to replacing the barrier.
Buchanan said that not only did the city not want the barrier replaced, but neither did the DEP, which is in violation of its own consent order by denying the city’s permit.
Dee Ann Miller from the DEP press office said the agency is consistent with the terms of their consent order, which was amended in March 2008.
Nate Bliss, who also served on the NSEMA process as one of the stakeholders, said the DEP is not violating its consent order as no scientific evidence has been made available to prove that water from Cape Coral is having adverse effects on the estuary.
Bliss also said the NSEMA process found all stakeholders in agreement the barrier should not be replaced.
He said he needs to see evidence that the water quality has been compromised.
“Not one bit of info has been put on the table that suggested there was a water quality problem,” he said.