MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island's Planning Board, meeting on Friday morning at the City Council chambers, rejected the idea that the problem of crumbling seawalls on the island can be solved with a quick fix. They took the hot potato tossed to them and city staff by the City Council, and lobbed it back with a unanimous vote indicating more time is needed to address the thorny issue.Over the next five to six years, as marine contractor Duane Thomas told the board, 50 miles or more of seawalls will need replacement on Marco. While no homeowner is happy being next door to where the work is being done, hundreds will find themselves in just that position, as seawalls built 40 years ago are either replaced or fail and tumble into the water.
The issue came to the forefront after July's City Council meeting, when the councilors reacted to homeowner Joe Varano, who catalogued the mess and inconvenience of seawall repairs being installed for his next door neighbor. In response to the council's direction, Community Affairs Director Bryan Milk led the Planning Board through a lengthy set of proposed regulations and restrictions on how seawall work could and could not be conducted.
The proposed amendment would mandate fencing to screen neighbors, require a dumpster onsite, make it illegal to demolish old seawall panels onsite to create riprap material, and reduce the number of days allowable for construction from 120 to 60.
This last provision provoked a good deal of discussion, both from the board members, and several marine contractors who were on hand for the meeting.
"Sixty days is setting us up for failure," said Brian Gilmore of Collier Seawall & Dock. "We need 120 days," he said, for concrete curing time, scheduling, and allowing other trades to work. Often, he said, marine contractors stage multiple jobs from one location. His firm often loads debris directly into a truck for disposal, he said, so a dumpster is not required.
Max Peterhans, the newest board member and a structural engineer native to Switzerland, said that, "as a structural engineer, I say that the seawalls here are a little bit lame. Where I come from are seawalls 250 years old, and they don't need repair."
He argued that using precast concrete slabs makes for a better job than casting the slabs on the jobsite, and expressed his view that Riprap should be banned altogether.
"The Riprap is going to slide out into the canals. Several people here cannot use their boat lift because of riprap. We should say no way Riprap is going to be used," said Peterhans.
Board member Marv Needles said that the more onerous regulations would end up vastly increasing the cost for everyone who needs seawall repairs.
"In my opinion, it's going too far, it's over-regulation," he said. "It's going to be more expensive for the homeowner. Let's face it, it's a construction site."
The Planning Board agreed that, despite the City Council's desire to have the matter dealt with quickly, seawall repair and replacement is a longterm issue that has provoked debate for years, and will continue to do so. Audience member Fay Biles, president of the Marco Island Taxpayers Association, said she has a crateful of materials on the issue, going back 10 years.
"People who are complaining about construction next door, wait till their seawall needs replacement," said Needles.
"This is a classic case of NIMBY," agreed Vice Chairman Jack Patterson.
By a 6-0 vote, with member David Caruso absent, the board passed Monte Lazarus' motion to table the issue, but city planner Joe Ervin cautioned that, due to the request from council, the issue would still be on the agenda for that body's next meeting.
Lazarus made another pitch in his campaign to have parking stickers provided for island residents, and City Councilor Jerry Gibson made the point that swale parking is "still open and legal." No parking signs erected 20 years ago, he noted, were put up before the City of Marco Island even existed as a separate governmental entity.
The Planning Board's next meeting is set for Sept. 7.