MARCO ISLAND — Robert Howard is among many Marco Islanders with sinking barges, dust, dirt and construction noise infringing upon the peaceful enjoyment of his waterfront home. He says he can’t take it anymore.
Seawall manufacturing on vacant lots within residential areas is what’s causing the ruckus and with nearly 200 miles of Island seawall about to crumble into the drink as the cement walls exceed their useful life expectancy, the calm may not come anytime soon, officials say.
An ordinance passed in 2006 allowing seawall contractors to use vacant residential lots for up to 120 days each year for manufacturing the walls is the problem, residents and some city leaders say.
The rules require vacant lot owner approval, but not neighbors’ approval.
“What concerns me out of the box is the adjacent property owners aren’t advised,” said City Council Chairman Frank Recker.
“You can have a factory for concrete next door to you and not have any say about it,” he said.
Solving the problem will require a balancing act between cost and convenience.
Duane Thomas, who owns a seawall business on island, provided a written estimate from off-island seawall provider S&S Precast, Inc., in Bonita Springs.
According to the estimate, it would cost nearly $40 per linear foot more if seawalls were manufactured off-island and shipped to Marco.
Manufacturing the cement walls on-island costs about $76 per linear foot, Thomas said.
It would cost $107 per linear foot if shipped into Marco, he added.
That doesn’t include installation costs or increased costs due to the risks of breakage during handling, Thomas said.
Ted Ryznor, from Precision Seawall and Dock and a city waterways committee member, agreed that it would easily cost 30 percent more to build seawalls off-island.
Councilmen Joe Batte and Chuck Kiester suggested the Planning Board review the potential savings in relation to the hassles in the neighborhoods.
“Nothing would make me leave the island quicker (than having this next door),” Recker said.
“I wouldn’t want it next door to me for a long time either,” Thomas acknowledged.
Nonetheless, something needs to be done to make it work, he said.
About 80 percent of the island’s seawalls will need to be replaced in the next 10 years, Thomas estimated. The figure mirrors previous reports from city building officials.
Grand Bay Condominium’s 80 residents just can’t take it anymore, said Howard of the association.
“For four months, not only did we have the noise, the dust and the dirt, they left a huge over-full dumpster,” Howard said.
When a storm came by, things were blowing around everywhere, he added.
Topping it off, a barge sank in the nearby Redwood Canal leaving an eye sore and spilling diesel fuel last month, Howard reminded council.
Councilman Wayne Waldack said if it’s in the city’s purview, seaworthiness of barges should be reviewed along with ordinance changes.
Not all agree that a change is in order. The city’s waterways committee unanimously (6-0) recommended to council that the ordinance does not need to be changed.
“These same people complaining now had their seawall done and already used their neighbor’s vacant lot, so they don’t care,” said Thomas, “Or, they’re going to need to get it replaced and then they’ll care.”
“We live on an Island. We have to have seawalls to protect us,” Thomas said.
Interim City Manager Jim Riviere, former chairman of the Planning Board, said the ordinance does need to be reviewed.
He cited the stories from property owners.
Resident Andrea Battaglia said her brother lived next door to a lot rented for four months of every year for three years in a row used to build seawalls. A large barge blocked the canal, she said.
Don Ricci, owner of Marco Marine Construction, said home builders have as much time as they need on vacant lots and felt it was already unfair to the seawall industry.
“We only have a couple choices here,” Ricci said. “Right now it’s a great deal for the property owners,” he added.
Every rain fall this summer will bring more seawall failures, Ricci said.
City building inspector Bob Mahar said city inspection off-island would become another concern.
He suggested restricting the time of day for construction.
There is not enough commercially zoned properties on-island to avoid construction in residential areas, officials said.
The city may begin leasing lots to contractors in more appropriate areas, possibly creating income for the city and taking care of the problem, Recker proposed.