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Fate of Chiquita Lock mulled by council

By Staff | Feb 26, 2013

With every option Cape Coral City Council was given on the future of the crumbling Chiquita Lock, the elected board seemed to have three questions on how each one would work.

In the end, no real decisions were made on what to do with the issue, but plenty of ways on how to get there were discussed during Monday night’s city council meeting at City Hall.

Public Works Director Steve Neff gave a presentation on the aging lock and the three options council would have to address it.

Council could install a new parallel lock, at about a $13 million price tag; remove the lock, which was installed by a decree from the Department of Environmental Protection for between $300,000 and $600,000; or fix the lock for about $200,000.

The problem with each of the three options was that there is no money in the budget to do anything, Neff said.

Another problem is that the preferred option, removal of the lock, may not cut ice with the DEP.

“Dissolved sediment and dissolved oxygen were a cause for concern,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said. “It would be difficult to show they could meet water quality requirements.”

Neff warned that it would cost at least $50,000 just to “put your feet in the water” and the city might not get the desired result.

As for fixing the lock, it would take at least $220,000 to replace the hydraulic drive with electric torque, and just two years ago a lock failure cost the city $85,000, most of which was reimbursed.

Since fixing the lock would be “kicking the can down the road” as Councilmember Marty McClain called it, council had to come to the reality that replacement of the lock might be the only option.

“We need a long-term fix and not 10 years of maybe,” McClain said. “Environmental stuff drives us nuts and we can’t fight the Army Corp of Engineers, they’re too powerful and costly.”

The question became how to get the $13 million needed for the new lock. And the answer was clear: From the people who stood to gain from it the most, the landowners along the water who officials said likely would see their property values skyrocket with a new lock or without a lock at all.

Some quick math showed that even if the cost was cut to $12 million, the 4421 waterfront properties that stood to benefit would have to pay a $2,717 assessment.

And that’s if $12 million was all it takes. Councilmember Rana Erbrick theorized it might take a lot more.

“The long-term fix is we’re looking at two parallel locks to keep things moving. You have to build one lock and have another limping along,” Erbrick said. “Now, we’re talking $25 million. If we’re going to fix it, let’s fix it.”

City Manager John Szerlag wanted a specific direction, but never really got one as no vote was taken. McClain said this had the potential to be “another North spreader,” which has led to a nasty battle with Lee County.

Erbrick said the same thing should happen to the lock on Chiquita, but it isn’t as easy.

“The lock is more a hazard to navigation than to the environment. I know there are things we can do to make the water quality work,” Erbrick said. “There are 4,000 boats potentially going through that, so we have to think about this big-ticket item of two locks to fix the problem.”