Collier commissioners hooked on idea of artificial reefs to attract tourists

In this archived photo, a wide variety of fish, including these spadefish inhabit Santa Lucia Reef, one of Collier County's most heavily fished artificial reefs because of its proximity to the coast.  The reef sits 25 feet below the water west of Gordon Pass.  Eric Strachan/Staff

In this archived photo, a wide variety of fish, including these spadefish inhabit Santa Lucia Reef, one of Collier County's most heavily fished artificial reefs because of its proximity to the coast. The reef sits 25 feet below the water west of Gordon Pass. Eric Strachan/Staff

Schools of baitfish swim around a discarded cast net on the Santa Lucia Reef system. Volunteers removed over 400 pounds of debris from the reef off Collier County as part of an underwater cleanup effort on Tuesday, August 14 2012. Scott Butherus/Staff

Photo by SCOTT BUTHERUS // Buy this photo

Schools of baitfish swim around a discarded cast net on the Santa Lucia Reef system. Volunteers removed over 400 pounds of debris from the reef off Collier County as part of an underwater cleanup effort on Tuesday, August 14 2012. Scott Butherus/Staff

— A piece of the push to sink more artificial reefs off the Collier County coast fell into place with a Tuesday vote by Collier County commissioners.

Commissioners agreed to ask for $500,000 from the Gulf Tourism and Seafood Promotional Fund, set up by BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, to help pay for the new reefs.

Naples attorney Peter Flood and a group with the county's Economic Recovery Task Force are hoping to raise $3 million from private donors and grants to build 36 new artificial reefs that will attract fish — and tourists who come to Southwest Florida to catch them and dive on the reefs.

"We're ready to move forward and get this thing done," Flood said after the vote. "I think it's a great thing."

Flood said he will ask the cities of Naples and Marco Island to submit their own applications for $500,000, the maximum grant from the BP fund, for the reef work.

The reefs could mean a $20 million to $35 million boost per year to the local tourism industry, according to an economic analysis by Flood's group.

Commissioner Georgia Hiller said she's all for fishing reefs but said the BP grant money would be better spent to attract more direct airline flights to Collier County.

Hiller received some support from Commissioner Donna Fiala, who suggested splitting the BP grant money between building reefs and attracting more direct airline flights.

Commission Chairman Fred Coyle challenged the idea, saying airports in Marco Island, Immokalee and Naples aren't equipped for the flights and don't have runways that could handle them.

Hiller then said she wasn't talking about bringing more direct flights to Collier airports but to Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers.

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