The preparation for the 10-year Clam Bay Restoration and Management Plan permit, like all Pelican Bay Services Division (PBSD) meetings, was publicly noticed and open to all, including Seagate residents. This took place from 1996 to 1998.
Consultants at first suggested that power boating should be restricted to south of the public boardwalk. Seagate residents protested and the boating rights of Seagate were maintained with a requirement that there be “idle speed” and “no wake” signs appropriately placed.
However, the plan clearly stated there would be no increase in navigation and the status quo would be maintained.
In 2008, when all were rejoicing over success of the plan, Seagate residents protested that the PBSD was not in compliance because it failed to install required lateral red/green navigation markers. They interpreted the following clause in the permit: “Finally the main channel will be marked in accordance with the requirements imposed by the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure that those who use the system clearly know where the channel is and the prohibitions against operating their watercraft outside the same,” to mean that red/green navigation markers had to be installed.
This clause refers to information and regulatory signs, not to lateral navigation signs. Lateral navigation signs do not prohibit you from doing anything. They only mark a safe channel.
Unfortunately, the county supported Seagate, and when the PBSD insisted on the correct interpretation, the county removed the PBSD from responsibility for Clam Bay.
Back in 2000, the PBSD requested a permit to install the canoe trail markers and said in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: “The reason for the permit is twofold. First is to provide a marked trail for the canoers and kayakers that frequent the area. The mangroves can be confusing and having a numbered line of sight system of markers will help the paddlers to travel through the area in a safe and comfortable manner. These markers will also delineate the dredged portion of the trail from Outer Clam Bay north to the pass.
“Marking this dredged channel is a commitment of the Clam Bay Restoration and Management Plan which was authorized by the corps and the Department of Environmental Protection, and these markers will fulfill that commitment.”
The permit was issued in March 2000 and states: “All canoe markers authorized under this permit must be maintained in proper condition at all times. Collier County must immediately report and correct any discrepancies ....”
In 2008 the PBSD noted several signs were missing in the circuitous channel and others were poorly visible due to corrosion. The PBSD ordered and paid for 32 new signs. The county forbade their installation in violation of the permit.
In a DEP memorandum of June 2008 to the coastal zone manager, the county is advised: “The required signage intended by the permit is specified within the permit, and it is clear that the intent of the permit was environmental enhancement rather than navigational enhancements.”
In May 2009 the county attorney sent a letter to the corps stating that the PBSD is a dependent branch of Collier County and as such is not authorized to bind the county commissioners with regard to any issues. The county wanted to effectively prevent the PBSD from providing factual information to the authorities. However, this did not prevent individuals from writing, and in June 2009 the corps responded as follows: “Yes, the placement of the non-lateral information signs and the canoe trail markers by the PBSD does satisfy the requirement referred to in the Department of the Army permit. No, the corps’ definition of navigability does not require the placement of lateral navigation signs that denote safe passage as defined by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for navigability.”
In spite of this clear statement by the corps, in March 2010 Collier County again requested authorization to install red/green dayboard markers and buoys “to come into compliance with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit.”
This is not about safety. If Seagate residents were concerned about safety, why would they have NOAA remove the designation “non-navigable” from the Clam Pass chart? Does encouraging more power boats in an area designated for passive recreation promote safety? This is about getting a deep water channel to the Gulf and quadrupling the value of Seagate homes.
Why is the county supportive? The county would like to convert this conservation gem into a sand pit. If the county installs the red/green navigation signs, it would be responsible for maintaining safe passage by dredging a channel with a minimal draft of five feet at mean low tide. The authorities, not Pelican Bay, will not allow red/green navigation markers.
Now the county wants to claim whenever the depth of the pass drops below five feet it must dredge for the health of the mangroves. The claim is false.
Raia is a retired Army radiologist. He commanded the 46th Combat Support Hospital in the first Gulf War and was chairman of the Department of Radiology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he had trained. He retired in 1997 and lives in Pelican Bay.