MARCO ISLAND — The wording in the agenda was terse. Item number six, which took up essentially the entire meeting, read in its entirety "Joint Workshop – Planning Board and Waterways Advisory Committee. Discussion: Seawalls."
The dual session of the Marco Island Planning Board and the Marco Island Waterways Advisory Committee in City Council chambers on Friday morning was the latest in a lengthy string of meetings, all to deal with the problem of Marco Island's seawalls, and how to keep them from falling into the water.
The issue was given new urgency at the most recent city council meeting, when councilors passed an ordinance that, in six months, will prohibit the use of vacant residential lots for staging of seawall construction. As City Council Chairman Larry Magel, invited to make an opening statement at Friday's session explained, council took that action hoping that, by setting a deadline, they will inspire participants including the two advisory boards, city staff and marine contractors to find a solution on how to expedite seawall replacement without depriving nearby residents of the "quiet enjoyment" of their homes.
With Planning Board Chairman Dick Shanahan chairing the session, Lina Upham of the Community Affairs Department led the two groups through a recitation of previous attempts to deal with the issue, including ordinances passed in 2006 and 2010, as well as the "fix" passed in 2012. She showed maps the city has prepared, indicating all vacant residential and commercial lots, and which canals must be reached under a bridge, often requiring construction barges to wait for extra-low tides to gain access.
"If anyone knows Deltona's plan for seawall replacement, please let us know," she said. With some 50 miles of seawalls likely to fail without replacement or repair over the next 10 years, the problem goes back to the original development of the island.
The possibility of using alternative materials to the standard concrete construction, such as metal and vinyl panels, was discussed, along with what Magel called the "Punta Gorda model."
Jim Timmerman of the waterways group reported that in Punta Gorda, homeowners pay the equivalent of an insurance premium from $400 to $500 per year to the city, which then takes care of seawall repair.
"Punta Gorda fabricates the panels at the public works department, and then contractors install them," said Timmerman. Complaints are rare. "Everybody knows it's a collaborative effort."
He also said that a handful of vocal complaints on Marco have been allowed to drive the issue.
"We hear over and over it's a quality of life issue. (Code compliance officer) Liz Carr said we had six complaints total in the past year, and four of those were directed at one specific instance."
"Seawalls only last 20 years. I plan to be here longer," said Richard Shanahan of the waterways committee. "I'll have to replace it two or three times."
Former planning board and also code enforcement board member Max Peterhans, who had spoken of how seawalls in his native Switzerland have endured for hundreds of years, was not on hand, as he was found ineligible to serve, not being registered to vote on Marco Island. The City Council will have to appoint replacements for both boards.
Much of Friday's meeting was taken up by a presentation from representatives of Stable Soils of Florida, who touted their method of "chemical grouting" to deal with failing seawalls. The company injects rigid polyurethane soil stabilization resin behind the seawall.
Planning Board member Marv Needles questioned whether that approach would be effective dealing with the typical conditions on Marco. "What about seawalls that are toed out or leaning out?" he asked.
"We don't fix seawalls, we permanently stabilize them. Y'all's walls are in fine shape, compared to Fort Lauderdale," said David Tuck of Stable Soils.
Brian Gilmore of Collier Seawall & Dock said he feels for his customers.
"Most of my customers call me when the wall is falling down, they don't have the money to be proactive. I know people who have sold their homes, and moved off the island, for fear their walls would come down." The use of vacant lots for staging is essential, he said.
The boards heard several estimates on how many vacant lots remain. "It's an elusive number," said Dick Shanahan.
The Planning Board has the option of a second Oct. meeting on the 19. No agenda items are currently scheduled, and if that remains the case, the next meeting will be on Nov. 2.