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Matanzas Pass Channel to be moved in 2012

By Staff | Dec 27, 2011

Shrimp boats, cruise ships, U.S. Coast Guard vessels and other large boats should expect a well-used, navigable passageway to be met with a resolution in the near future.

Matanzas Pass Channel markers are expected to be moved in the next few months.

Coastal Engineer Robert Neal of the Lee County Division of Natural Resources relayed those words at the Estero Island Restoration Project end meeting at Pink Shell last week.

“In the near future, I believe they will remove the channel markers, which are pilings, and replace them with anchored floating buoys so that can be moved more readily in the future. We expect the markers to be moved in the next 90 days,” he said Monday, Dec. 19. “If we can realign the channel markers, we can direct these boats into deeper water.”

There have been grumblings about the channel seemingly filling in with sand due to the project that nourished the northern 1.2 miles of beachfront on Fort Myers Beach. That filling-in process comes as no major surprise.

“We expected it to happen a little bit. From the surveys, it looks like a combination of low water tides and the infilling that we are seeing. The depths are the same, but the channel is shifting,” said Neal. “The channel itself was surveyed, and we do believe there is plenty of deep water there. (Dredged sand) has not impacted the channel depths significantly at this point.”

Neal noted the channel has moved towards the north. The Army Corps of Engineers did a survey and has notified the U.S. Coast Guard, which is in charge of the channel markers, of its findings. Unfortunately, navigation officials from U.S. Coast Guard Stations St. Petersburg and Fort Myers Beach were unavailable for comment before press time to confirm the engineer’s remarks.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District representative Jackie Keiser was reached and gave her insight on the marker realignment before remarking on the survey.

“The Coast Guard typically moves the channel markers to the best water, but we really do not have any say in that matter,” she said. “There is some shoaling in the channel, but there is still navigable water.”

While Neal did report he believed the Army Corps would be dredging the channel in 2013 or 2014, Keiser stated that is not the case.

“The channel is a low commercial use channel. That means there is not a lot of commercial tonnage that goes through there, so it doesn’t qualify for federal funding in the president’s budget,” she said.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials are still keeping an eye on the passageway.

“We are monitoring it and trying to be proactive if federal funding becomes available. If the county chooses to do it on their own, we will support them anyway we can,” said Keiser.

The channel was last dredged as an emergency case two years ago.

“The way we got funding to do it in 2009 was through emergency appropriations because the storms caused shoaling,” said Keiser. “We don’t expect any federal funds as of now. If there are some that become available, we would certainly get our permits in place and be prepared to dredge.”

County officials stated they would monitor the jetty. Officials at the Lee County Natural Resources offices expect the rock formation will be modified in 2012. Neal stated that Lee County officials would be able to get an idea of what will happen to that rock formation area now that the sand placement is over.

“At high tide, we see water coming all the way around it. We are still seeing how the sand shapes there,” said Neal. “We expect that we will be asking for a modification within a year to extend that jetty either landward or seaward or both.”