MARCO ISLAND — As a safe and popular anchorage, Smokehouse Bay is one of the best for boaters; but for larger vessels, getting there is more than half the problem.
On Monday, Marco Island City Council questioned navigation safety through Collier Creek, the entranceway to Collier and Smokehouse Bays. The narrow creek has long been subject to excessive silt deposited by the Marco River. Council also attributed the problem to improper dredging by the county about two years ago.
Councilors unanimously called for “emergency” dredging after reviewing a Waterways Advisory Committee report from its March 24 meeting on the status of the channel’s entrance. Council hoped to work jointly with Collier County’s Coastal Zone Management Department to obtain the necessary emergency permits.
“A gentleman coming back from Key West ran aground there,” said Bill Ermatinger, dock master for the Esplanade Marina on Smokehouse Bay. “That entrance is shallow and narrow. Eventually big boats will get stuck. At low tide it’s a real hazard for propellers and running gear.”
The marina’s president, Larry Gordon, concurred.
“It’s not just a problem for the marina but for all boat owners around Smokehouse Bay,” he said. Larger vessels are often warned not to go through the Collier Creek channel at low tide.
Safety is the factor for boaters, Ermatinger said.
“If one boat is coming in and one going out (of the creek), there really is a problem passing if one of those skippers is inexperienced. There’s a potential for damage,” he said.
The channel is used annually during the Christmas Island Style Boat Parade, said chairman Steve Stefanides.
“We go into Collier Creek and proceed up through Collier Bay into Smokehouse Bay,” he said. “Only once in my 6 years did we have an issue, and it was because the boat captain strayed from the (channel) markers. We now pre-position boats at those markers to keep the participants in the channel.”
Stefandes said part of the problem is attention to markers.
“If you follow the markers you are okay, however if you deviate from the channel you can have a problem,” he said. He noted that the same problem existed for most of Marco Island and Southwest Florida.
Stefanides was not sure why there would be a need for “emergency” dredging and recalled a similar problem from “de-watering” the sludge on the Tract-K property.
Rodger Parcelles, owner of Sunshine Tours that operates the Marco Island Princess, has one of the largest boats that passes through Collier Creek.
“We actually go in nightly with our sunset cruises,” he said. “It’s definitely narrowing.”
Parcelles remembered changes made during the last dredging including rocks that were added to the sides of the channel.
“When the channel narrows, the water through it runs faster,” Parcelles said. “That makes the whole thing a bit of a challenge, and when you enter the river, you pick up the wind pushing you further from the marks.”
Parcelles said passing in the channel can be difficult, so the Marco Island Princess stands off and waits if an oncoming boat has already entered the channel.
“It’s not that passing is impossible,” he said, “but dredging would be beneficial and safer.”