I have been working for the past year to locate and open the existing tide leveling culverts under SR92 to restore flow back to the mangrove die-off area near Goodland and Key Marco.
After receiving permission and permits to clean the culverts, Eli Contracting was hired to begin the work. In the spirit of community service they gave a very low bid, and thanks to a donation from John and Corrie Grado, it was possible to begin.
We excavated the area around the two 56-inch culverts at Station 235+00, which is approximately 3/4 mile east of the Key Marco entrance, and removed two dump truck loads of cut tree limbs and dirt. Flow and tidal action immediately began again in the die-off area.
We found the complete end wall and the outlet of one culvert on the south side of the road.
Further plans included locating the other end wall on the north side as well as the other culvert and then cleaning both culverts completely. The contractor and I both feel this is a viable culvert location.
Marco Island’s city manager has agreed to step in and do any repairs or maintenance to assure these culverts remain open and flowing once they are deemed viable.
In addition, I have further excavated the location of the culvert at Station 205+30. This culvert is located just east of the entrance to Key Marco.
Once again we located a complete end wall and intact culvert on the north side of the road. The other side of this culvert has not been located and may need to be extended.
South Florida Water Management District indicated to me that extending a culvert is not a difficult task to permit or complete. This culvert is important to the natural areas along Whiskey Creek Drive that border the Key Marco community.
Several areas that once were mangroves have been taken over by Brazilian pepper trees and other invasive exotics. The remnants of river flow still exist and would be renewed if the culvert at Station 205+30 was opened. This river empties into the die-off area and was a major tributary from the river on the other side of SR92.
When doing our excavating, the water running out of the culvert had more clarity than the stagnant water in the hole at the culvert entrance, suggesting fresh water flow from the other side.
In my opinion this is still a viable culvert which may or may not need extending.
The third culvert at Station199+95 just west of Key Marco is noted as existing and being extended by 8 feet to allow for pavement widening on the construction maps for Key Marco. This culvert has not yet been excavated, but does show a bit of water flow on the north side of the road. I’m certain we will find an intact end wall and culvert when excavated.
The other side of the culvert ends in a small, isolated area of mangroves of approximately 70,000 square feet on the other side of the Key Marco wall but is not visible. There are live mangrove trees in this recreation parcel but once again Brazilian pepper trees and other exotics have overtaken the area.
Restoring the flow to this area would assure the mangrove survival there.
This was most likely the culvert that flushed the area between Key Marco and Vintage Bay before the development of Key Marco. I have discussed the possibility of adding a new culvert under Whiskey Creek Drive in Key Marco to allow tidal water from the opened Station 205+30 culvert to flow into this die-off area.
The Key Marco Community Development District has indicated a desire to explore this option.
There is a fourth culvert location under the small bridge on the road to Goodland. There is another die-off area beginning nearby and it has been noted that this culvert has also clogged causing a sand bar to form at the mouth of the water flowing to it.
In my first report on the die-off area I reported that staff from Rookery Bay had been trying for years to secure grant monies to study the problem.
The week of Aug. 24, while in the middle of my efforts, I came across a group of people meeting in the area of the culverts on SR92. They graciously included me in their field meeting and I learned they had secured a $50,000 grant to study the area.
I shared my copy of the 1967 DOT map showing the current culvert locations. Robin Lewis, president of Coastal Resources Group, Inc. was heading the meeting. I also learned that the die-off area has an official name, Fruit Farm Creek Mangrove Restoration. They are using the money to gather hydrographic, survey and topographic data to prepare a conceptual restoration plan for the area.
After this phase another $125,000 will be needed for design and permitting with an ultimate goal to dredge the mangrove rivers and build new culverts.
A similar study titled Goodland Mangrove Die-off was done in 2002 to 2003 yet nothing was done about the clogged culverts. My observations are that these four existing culverts were very carefully thought out back in 1967 and were placed at strategic locations to allow for tidal flow under SR92.
I doubt these culverts have been maintained much since they were installed.
The blocking of flow as the culverts clogged has caused sand bars to form, and river flows in the mangrove forest to clog and die off. It would seem logical to open these existing culverts first, dredge and let the flow naturally begin again and then go back and do hydrology readings to see what else if anything needs to be dredged or added to the system of culverts.
This action would save the taxpayers conservatively hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of extensive work that may be unnecessary and it would also expedite the return of tidal flows to stop the expansion of the die-off area.
I was asked by Robin Lewis and Jeff Carter of Rookery Bay to voluntarily stand down until they finish their readings in early December as the opening of the existing culverts will change tidal flow readings and disturb their study. I have sent my thoughts and observations to them and plan to continue my work unless their studies show this will be detrimental to the area.
As I have maintained, restoring any flow into and out of this area would be better than nothing, which is basically what has been done for the last 40 years. I’ll keep you posted.
Eileen Ward and her husband, Peter, own and operate Greensward of Marco Inc., a lawn maintenance and landscaping company. Besides completing horticultural courses from the University of Florida, she has a commercial maintenance spray license and is a registered dealer in agricultural products in Florida.