Editor's note: The original posted story described the beach at Pelican Bay as private. The beach is privately owned landward of the mean high water line but is public seaward of the line. That language has been added to the story below.
NAPLES _ Clam Pass has changed course in North Naples, raising concerns about safety and beach erosion and sending Collier County coastal managers scrambling to fix it.
A sand bar that attached to the beach at the county's Clam Pass Park, south of the pass, has grown across the mouth of the pass in recent weeks, forcing the pass to take a dramatic turn to the north instead of heading west into the Gulf of Mexico.
The shift has eroded the private beach at Pelican Bay, uncovering old mangrove tree stumps where boaters and swimmers play and bringing the water's edge to within 5 to 7 feet of a Pelican Bay beach pavilion. The beach is privately owned landward of the mean high water line but is public seaward of the line.
Collier County Manager Leo Ochs declared a beach emergency in Pelican Bay last week, allowing Pelican Bay crews to place concrete barriers in front of the pavilion to hold the line against erosion until a "more permanent temporary solution is in place."
The county plans to make a cut across the shoal to steer the pass back to its original path, but the plan requires sign-offs from state and federal regulatory agencies, the county's coastal zone management director Gary McAlpin said.
"It's not good news," he said after talking with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit reviewers Friday afternoon.
The Corps is refusing to waive or expedite a biological review of the dredging permit's effect on protected species like sea turtles and manatees, McAlpin said.
He said the review, which must be done before the permit can be issued, could take an "extended period of time." An existing Clam Pass dredging permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection covers the state approval.
The permits will allow dredging up to 80 feet wide and 5.5 feet deep at the mouth of the pass, but McAlpin said engineers haven't determined how big the emergency cut will have to be to move the pass back into place.
Pelican Bay and Seagate, a boating neighborhood that accesses the Gulf through Clam Pass, have a history of feuding over the extent of dredging at the pass, but no disagreement has emerged over solving the emergency.
"We're open to whatever the best solution is," said Jim Hoppensteadt, president of the Pelican Bay Foundation, the community's master association.
Seagate Property Owners Association President David Buser said boaters are afraid to navigate what amounts to an obstacle course of tree stumps in the pass, not to mention the potential for injury to swimmers.
"I went through there the other day on a pedal-powered kayak and I felt like I was in the slalom event at the Olympics," Buser said.
While McAlpin and Hoppensteadt insist enough water is moving through the pass to keep Clam Bay's mangrove forest healthy, Buser said he fears the pass will close completely.
McAlpin said making sure the mangroves get enough tidal exchange is part of the calculation to determine the amount of regular dredging at the pass but will not be part of the quicker calculation that will be made to determine the extent of the emergency cut.
"We want to deal with the pressure on the pass right now," he said.