Repercussions of Ceitus Barrier removal will continue to plague water conditions and Cape Coral development
To the editor:
Cape Coral continues to plunge ahead with very ambitious plans for possible high-rise condos, big commercial projects, marinas, gated communities, etc., etc., along the North Spreader while seemingly oblivious to the environmental consequences. Incredibly, some proposals even include dredging direct access canals through the mangroves to provide shorter boat routes to Matlacha Pass, or bulldozing wetlands to create beaches and parks – actions that have been prohibited by federal law since 1972. All of the proposals involve dumping even more dirty water directly into the Spreader and Matlacha Pass.
Cape Coral removed the Ceitus Barrier in 2008 under an agreement that it would be restored with a lock to accommodate boaters. (That agreement was itself the settlement of a previous legal action.) Residents of the northwest Cape then improperly convinced the Cape Coral Council that replacement of the barrier was unnecessary. They said the water was pristine, already flows through the mangroves and that all was environmentally well – plus they said the barrier removal would cause real estate values (and city revenues) to soar. They were dead wrong on all counts, but the council believed them and voted to renege on their agreement. Of course, yet another lawsuit followed (State of Florida v. The City of Cape Coral, Case No. 14-CA-0011204).
Recent data collected by both Cape Coral and Lee County clearly shows the damages caused by the removal of the barrier. Removal of the barrier caused a 16-inch water level drop in the Spreader, which means all waters flow out the hole caused by the barrier removal – the mangroves and other wetlands are left high and dry and the fish nursery no longer functions. In the summer rains, the Spreader is all fresh water. However, in the dry season, the Spreader (without the barrier) changes to a salt water system. Thus, neither fresh water nor salt water dependent species have any chance of survival in the Spreader. It’s now an environmental nightmare. Restoration of the barrier would raise the water level 16 inches, rehydrate the fish nursery and stabilize the Spreader itself as a brackish (briny or somewhat salty) system suitable for a very wide variety of fish and other marine life.
Stormwater from the entire 115-square-mile watershed now flows through the 200-foot-wide hole created by the barrier’s removal – for an area that gets 55 inches of rain a year, that’s an incredible amount of water. That creates fast waters dangerous to boats as well as siltation that clogs boat channels and drowns oyster and sea grass beds in Matlacha Pass. The excess fresh water has also wiped out the tunicates, sponges, oysters and other sedentary salt water species in that area of Matlacha Pass. Sometimes after big rains, the dissolved oxygen levels in that area read zero, which means all fish have either left the area or died.
The Spreader and adjoining wetlands were the North Cape stormwater treatment system before removal of the barrier. The Cape promised to create a replacement stormwater system, but did not do so (it’s doubtful that is even possible). So now, the Cape also faces a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit, which may well include a moratorium on any new development in the northwest Cape.
Meanwhile, the Cape charges ahead with plans to convert even more of Southwest Florida landscape into numerous and grandiose concrete communities – while at the same time hypocritically blaming federal and state authorities for the horrible and filthy condition of our local waters. Ironically, the Cape is, at the same time, in both federal and state courts hopelessly defending their refusal to restore the barrier with a lock as previously agreed. Even more lawsuits are bound to follow – as well they should.
All of these problems could be cured by restoring the barrier with a boater-friendly lock, just as they agreed to do in 2008. Cape council members like to say they follow the science – it’s time they actually do just that and restore the barrier. Further delays will hinder development plans, increase burdens on Cape taxpayers and most importantly inflict even more serious damages to our water environment.