A little over a year ago I wrote a report on the dying area of mangroves between Marco Island and Goodland. Rookery Bay staff reported that part of the problem could be clogged or collapsed culverts under C.R. 92 which were designed along with the road to allow for tidal flow into and out of the dying area. When the culverts became clogged, because of no ongoing maintenance, rain and tidal water washing into the area from high tides had no where to go. As a result, the breather roots of the mangroves were submerged in water for too long causing the mangroves to weaken and/or die.
While all the “experts” insisted there was more to it than clogged culverts, I could not see the harm in locating and cleaning them. Restoring some flow to the area could, at the very least, slow the decline of this area and at best begin to turn the decline around. I inquired with D.E.P. about finding the culverts.
In the summer of 2009 I observed city contractors trimming the vegetation, including mangroves, back to the toe of the swale as part of right of way maintenance. I was excited and so contacted DEP again to see if they were looking for the missing culverts in the area. They did not realize that work was going on and said they would look into it. Within a week of my inquiry, dump trucks began arriving along CR 92 and dumping dozens of loads of soil into the toe of the swale including along the fringe mangroves.
The dumping of any fill into mangroves is prohibited by law. I was outraged to see dirt being dumped along this delicate fringe area as it could cause irreparable damage to the remaining fringe of this very distressed area. In addition the precious and elusive culverts were being forever buried under tons of dirt. I contacted the regulatory department of DEP in Fort Myers to report my observations and suggested their inspection and intervention. The dumping of dirt stopped immediately and engineers along with backhoes arrived and began excavating and marking several areas between Vintage Bay and Goodland. Hallelujah! They were looking for the culverts. They also began pulling the fill dirt back and containing it with landscape fabric and rip rap rock.
They located and cleared one culvert and immediately tides started to come and go into the die off area. No longer was the area either flooded or bone dry. The smell of decay left within a couple of weeks and has not returned. Tides continue to rise and fall in the die off area. I stopped and observed the culvert in action and was amazed by the force of the flow through the culvert.
Then the work came to a halt. Brazilian pepper trees had been cut and left to lay and die along the edge of the mangroves. This is also against the law. Dirt dumped along the mangroves between Key Marco and Vintage Bay is still being allowed to run off and disturb these mangrove areas. Three more culverts, while located, remain clogged. I sent another e-mail off to DEP with further concerns about the situation and also contacted Rookery Bay trying to determine who had cleaned the first culvert and who was responsible to clean the rest and then subsequently perform ongoing maintenance. Rookery Bay thought the City of Marco Island had cleaned the first one but was not sure and suggested that I try to find private funding for any further work and that those monies could be used for that purpose.
Having seen the results of one culvert being opened I wanted to see the results if all were flowing properly. In addition the area between Vintage Bay and Key Marco was not affected by opening the first culvert. I contacted a contractor who I knew did culvert work for the City of Marco Island and got a price of $2500 to open the remaining three culverts. I then found a private citizen willing to fund the project. When I contacted Rookery Bay with this news they suddenly did not know if they had jurisdiction to allow me to do this and I did not hear back from them. I then contacted Collier County since it is a county road. Upon hearing my request they gave me permission to proceed with a county representative present to observe. Unfortunately, he called me back before the end of the day to inform me that the City of Marco Island actually had jurisdiction since the county pays the City of Marco Island hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain this and other county roads in the area.
The City of Marco Island was contacted and they informed the county that all of the culverts were cleared and would not need maintenance again for several years. The contractor and I are sure this is untrue as per our inspection and lack of flow at these culverts.
Just last week and months after my concern the City of Marco Island tree contractors were again working along 92. This time removing the dead and abandoned Brazilian pepper from the mangroves. This would have been a great thing except they drove their large landscape trucks right into the fringe mangroves causing massive ruts and damaging the topography of the land not to mention the root systems of these sensitive plants. Once again driving any machinery into a mangrove area is against the law. The most damaged area is adjacent to the tidal flow culvert and most surely will affect any flow if and when this culvert is cleared.
I don’t understand why the cleaning of these culverts is being avoided at all costs. In light of the money the City of Marco Island spends on things like new linear parks and chickee huts I would think something as important as the environmental impact of hundreds of acres of dying mangroves would warrant the expenditure of $2,500. I stand ready to continue with this project along with volunteers if only we could stop the city’s suffocating politics at the expense of the environment.