The seawalls of Marco Island are failing. With most having been in place for decades, they are naturally bowing, rotating and crumbling under the relentless pressures of gravity and erosion. The city board dealing with this issue is the Waterways Committee, and it met Thursday at City Hall.
The committee is working on amending the current ordinance dealing with seawall maintenance, repair and failure by making it more clear when a seawall is in a condition that can be repaired and when a full, costly replacement is needed.
After dealing with some non-controversial issues, such as awarding the contract for repairing the Caxambas bridge, and the exploration of five alternative solutions for the Smokehouse Bay bridges, the committee grappled with the issue of how homeowners may or may not repair their seawalls, as opposed to replacing them altogether.
Committee member Don Dilks made a motion to delete wording in the ordinance governing seawalls that says a new seawall may not be placed in front of an old one. This is a method, often using vinyl panels, which allows owners to save money versus a complete replacement of a failing structure.
Public Works Director Rony Joel opposed the idea, saying that adding on to the front of an existing seawall amounts to the homeowner taking property that is not his, as the new panels will necessarily encroach into the canal. The question, he said is simple: “Are you taking more property? The answer is yes. It’s not your property.”
This method, he maintained, would never pass muster with the Corps of Engineers. He said homeowners would be welcome to apply for a variance, and would need that and written authorization from the Corps to make the process conform.
Dilks countered that this method is in wide use in other areas of Florida.
“Why make the owner pay $2,000 for a variance?” he asked. He introduced a speaker, Paul Schmitz of Crane Material Intl., an Atlanta firm, who showed examples and answered the committee members’ questions about how the vinyl panels work to stabilize an aging seawall.
Dilks’ motion passed, but Marco Island residents whose seawalls are crumbling should not expect to be able to start building on to the front of their seawalls anytime soon. Community Development Director Steve Olmsted, also present at the meeting, asked that city staff be directed to prepare a report to the committee for consideration at its next meeting.
This motion was made by committee member Jim Carroll, and also passed.
“Will this hold up this ordinance much longer?” asked Bruce Yakola, Marco Island’s electrical and seawall inspector. He expressed concern he is left without a clear mandate regarding what is and what is not permissible regarding dealing with the growing number of seawalls whose useful life is dwindling.
A similar issue was raised concerning the wording on what indicates a failed seawall. Committee member Richard James Shanahan (“no, I’m not that Richard Shanahan,” he clarified) said there is a need to quantify what triggers the requirement for remedial work.
“Every time I read the ordinance, I get concerned by the word ‘severe,’ agreed Dilks.
Olmsted said assessing the need is “not an exact science,” and the members agreed on wording that Yakola said he could also work with.
The committee also heard a presentation from Liza Davis and Amber Crooks of the Conservancy on the Fertilizer Ordinance regulating the stormwater runoff that is a major source of pollution in area waterways.
In addition to Dilks, Carroll and Shanahan, members Gale Vinson and Don Henderson attended the meeting. Geoff Fahringer and Ted Ryznar were absent. The committee is scheduled to meet again June 25.