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Public weighs in on proposed seawall standards

By Staff | Aug 29, 2019

Proposed changes to seawall regulations in Cape Coral have raised concern among city residents and businesses who have made their voices heard via 94 pages of public input to the city.

Most of the comments were critical.

Industry leaders have predicted dramatic rises in costs.

The city, though, said that’s not the case, and that these proposed changes are just that: proposals.

“We’re still in the process of vetting standards,” said Stephanie Smith, design and construction manager for the city. “We are working with consultants and those in the industry. Until those standards are ready, we don’t know what, if even, those prices are going up.”

City officials, who said they were looking for input via their website only from those in the industry, were bombarded with comments from residents and businesses alike on Aug. 16, the day the site listed as the deadline for written comments on the proposed changes.

Officials said that the online comment deadline was not the last opportunity for residents to have their voices heard, and that they don’t foresee the final standards proposal making its way to the Cape Coral City Council for consideration anytime soon.

“We’re still months away,” said Paul Clinghan, the city’s Public Works Department director.

The issue will have to undergo a public hearing process and, likely, a Council workshop or workshops prior to that.

Officials touched on some of the more controversial, or misunderstood components of the preliminary changes.

Clinghan said they will not require an engineer to be on site at all times, and are working to potentially alter the 50% mudline penetration requirement that Honc and Williamson both dispute, saying only 40% is required and that a seawall never failed because of only 40% penetration.

Smith and Clinghan also wanted to make clear that stainless steel inside of seawalls, for example, is an alternative, not a standard, as currently proposed in the most recent revision of proposed changes, dated Aug. 9.

Industry leaders Honc Marine and Williamson & Sons Marine Construction, among those questioning the proposal, maintain those “other options” aren’t realistic, and have expressed those concerns to the city to what they say has been no avail.

Honc Marine said they had reviewed the latest round of revisions before they were posted online and gave the city their input on what they feel needs to be reworked.

The alternatives to stainless steel the city has offered up include low-carbon chromium steel rebar A1035 grade 100 steel, known to many as MMFX, and fiberglass.

In a letter obtained by The Breeze to the city dated July 19, President of Honc Marine, John Honc, wrote, “This new low carbon grade 100 steel is a terrible idea. It’s too hard and too brittle and breaks when it is bent or stressed.”

Honc said it attempted to use this material back in 2004 and had to retrofit several hundred seawalls that were failing in less than a year.

“No one in the industry will use it. Not many suppliers will supply it,” said Geoff Campbell, Honc Marine’s senior estimator and project manager.

Currently, most industry leaders use epoxy rebar in their seawalls, a material not laid out in the most recent changes.

The city stressed that nothing has been set in stone, but some ask why the city is proposing some of the changes staff has placed on the table.

“‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,'” Honc wrote to the city in regards to having to use MMFX.

Raymond Williamson, vice president of Williamson & Sons Marine Construction, shares the same concerns.

“There’s lots of trouble with MMFX,” Williamson said. “It’s not going to work with what we do. They haven’t given us a good reason why we can’t use it (epoxy.)”

Officials with Honc and Williamson each said that fiberglass is not the most efficient option, either.

“Fiberglass is not a viable option in most situations,” Campbell said.

Honc, in the letter in which he pointed out 17 recommended changes to the newest standards, said that with a few tweaks to the old plans, they could come up with an adequate seawall for about $5,000 more than the current price of a typical 80-foot seawall.

Honc said the city’s changes, as currently proposed, would increase the price of a typical 80-foot seawall by about $18,000, that being on a “virgin” piece of land, not taking into account a need for canal access behind a home and potential impacts of these new standards on neighboring seawalls — two important factors to keep in mind when pricing out a job.

Both industry leaders have expressed that each site brings new challenges and obstacles, and it may be hard to apply these proposed standards to every site without running into issues.

“It’s one thing to draw it up, it’s another to build it on site. Some of what they’re asking is an impossible feat,” said Williamson.

Cape officials expressed willingness to work with site plans on a case-by-case basis when unique challenges are presented.

Though city officials stated that they are listening to industry experts, those same companies do not feel that this has been the case regarding the proposed seawall standards.

“We worked with the city for well over a year. They never softened, never found middle ground. Maybe a small tweak, but those tweaks came with changes in other areas that we did not agree with,” said Campbell.

Williamson said that the last time they had heard from the city a month or two back, they had a roundtable discussion with city officials and Blot Engineering, the firm the city hired to prepare the engineering standards.

“We sat down to discuss making a better product, but they don’t take what we say into consideration,” Williamson said. “It’s the engineer’s numbers versus the history of what we know works. We don’t mind change, but this is like starting over.”

Williamson said he’s not even sure if he would be able to keep his current pace of seawall work if these standards, as currently proposed, were to be enacted.

Campbell noted that Honc has recently been in contact with the city to continue to discuss what they feel are the right steps to take and revisions to make.

City officials said they will continue to work with industry leaders and are going to a nearby city to see how they do things.

City staff plan to meet with Punta Gorda staff in the near future and is comparing their design standards as part of a comparative analysis.

“The goal of this project is to improve the standards while keeping costs at a minimum,” said city spokesperson Maureen Buice.

Officials said the public can also still comment on the proposed changes online.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj