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Chiquita Lock info session turns contentious

By Staff | Mar 19, 2019

What was intended to be an information session outlining the harms some say will come with the removal of the Chiquita Lock turned into a sometimes contentious debate Monday night as those who support the structure’s removal proffered arguments of their own – and told the out-of-towners to go home.

The Matlacha Civic Association, and a small coalition of Cape Coral residents, called the session at Cape Harbour Marina to present their program, “The Case Against Removal of the Chiquita Lock.

They quickly learned there are those who support Cape Coral’s years-long effort to garner state permission to remove the lock and who take strong issue with the legal challenge filed by those opposed.

“You’re from Matlacha. You don’t live here. You’re going to cost the taxpayers money and the only ones making money will be the lawyers,” argued Drake Bliss. “Lake Okeechobee is the problem. The city has done a lot with sewers and city water and a fertilizer ban.”

The group opposed to the lock’s removal, which the city maintains will improve boater safety and wait times without harming water quality, has filed a lawsuit against the city of Cape Coral and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, with hearings to begin next week. The coalition had clean water experts were on hand to explain what they say is the science behind keeping the lock.

“We’re here to bring awareness and facts about the removal of the boat lock. The city removed the Ceitus Barrier in 2008 to disastrous effects and removal of the Chiquita Lock will have the same devastating effect,” said Carl Deigert, president of the Matlacha Civic Association.

Deigert and others opposed to the removal said the water level will drop about 15 inches, flushing fresh water into the estuary, destroying mangroves and flooding the ecosystem with the fresh water, nitrogen and pollutants. They also said there will be siltation and an inability for larger boats to dock at the marina due to lack of water depth.

However, some residents who live nearby had other ideas, and they were very vocal about it.

“It’s antiquated nonsense. It’s a nuisance. We sit and wait and people don’t know how to control their boat when other boats are coming in. There was no red tide or blue-green algae at Rumrunner’s, so there was none of that on this side of the lock,” said Nora Allison, who was among them.

Those speaking against removal and in support of the lock included Frank Muto, general manager of Safe Harbour Marinas, attorney John Turner and Kevin Irwin, who gave his thoughts via videotape.

Muto and Turner were listened to respectfully. Irwin, on tape, was largely ignored.

It was when Deigert and Michael Hannon spoke that things got contentious, with Hannon often responding to dissenters.

“We’re trying to protect your water and my water. My propose is to protect the waters for every person under this tent,” said Deigert to one protester. “Show me your scientific facts.”

Patti Smith, who supported the keeping the lock in place, believed it is ultimately all about the money, namely from those with a million-dollar homes and the big yachts who want expediency.

“All the people griping about this are worried about delays in traffic. They’re upset because it takes a long time for them to get out of this lock.,” Smith said. “Environmental massacre is our point, so who wins? Is it the money and the people who want expediency or is it the environment for the rest of the world.”

Those who want the lock removed offered some compromise, including having the lock open at certain times of the day or leaving it open for 30 days to see what happens.