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City Council to discuss smalltooth sawfish habitat

By Staff | Mar 9, 2012

Mayor John Sullivan is firm in his desire to save the smalltooth sawfish – so much so that he wants to officially designate a habitat for it.

Sullivan has put forth a resolution, to be voted on Monday at the City Council meeting, which will “designate a critical habitat area for the threatened species and direct the city manager to be part of the development of an Effect Determination Key for the fish in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers to avoid permitting difficulties.”

In laymen’s terms, it means the city and the ACE would agree to come together to tackle the issue of seawall permitting along canals to make sure the process of construction doesn’t take years through an individual permit process.

“Someone said six months is lightning fast for the federal government to do anything,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said. “The point is to work with the (ACE) to keep Cape Coral a city-wide permit (to expedite the permitting process). By virtue of that, you trust our engineers will do good for the fish.”

Councilmember John Carioscia said the resolution will bring a meeting of the minds between city and federal officials and engineers in hopes of finding a solution.

“It’s to discuss possibilities and come up with options,’ Carioscia said. “More study has to be done so it’s right the first time.”

The resolution states a code would be developed to specify which activities would impact the species and trigger a review of the permit by the ACE to determine whether the activity will impact the fish.

McGrail, Carioscia and City Information Director Connie Barron said the resolution brings back memories of when the city tried to save the manatees several years ago.

“When we had the manatee problem and no dock building was permitted, the (ACE) developed a key that specified certain activities,” Barron said. “That way the (ACE) wouldn’t have to review it and the city could issue a permit.

McGrail wants to make sure the manatee dilemma doesn’t happen again, which could have an adverse affect on construction.

“Everyone would be on their own and it would crimp new construction,” McGrail said. “All saltwater canal sites would have to be permitted individually and the timeline could stretch into years. Time is money.”

Barron said the resolution will impact all of Southwest Florida, where there are more than 840,000 acres of sawfish habitat. She also said that other municipalities should climb aboard.

“We’ve worked with the (ACE) and have been very proactive in protecting the fish along with Lee County,” Barron said. “The resolution would encourage other municipalities in joining us in the request for the ACE to encourage its development.”

Carioscia said the bottom line is to protect the species.

“We have to do we what we can, especially here in Florida. It’s all about the environment,” Carioscia said.

The smalltooth sawfish is a species found in shallow tropical and subtropical waters in coastal parts of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Locally, it swims in the shallow canals.

It is vulnerable to overexploitation because of its propensity for entanglement in nets, its restricted habitat, and low rate of population growth, according to the NOAA.