Naples sinks plans to build wildlife habitat island

— The Naples City Council sunk plans Wednesday to build an island of wildlife habitat on Naples Bay after pushing the idea for years.

Council members cited higher-than-expected costs for the project, which had been advertised as a way to save money on a Port Royal canal dredging job while helping the bay’s ecosystem.

Instead, the cost of the project came in some $400,000 above a $2 million special assessment charged to Port Royal property owners for the canal dredging. The city plans to rebid the canal dredging job alone.

“As much as I love habitat islands, I don’t think it’s prudent for the taxpayers to pay an extra $400,000,” Naples Mayor John Sorey said.

Sorey pitched the idea of severing the island project from the canal dredging and asking for separate bids on both, in hopes of bringing down the cost, but he eventually sided with the rest of the council to drop the habitat island plans altogether.

“I’d like to kind of go back to basics,” Councilman Gary Price said.

Only two companies put in bids the first time around, and some contractors who did not bid on the project expressed uncertainty about tackling the island-building job.

Plans called for using muck from the canal bottom to build a 1 1/2-acre island off the mangrove-lined shore along the Windstar Country Club, about half of the island’s permitted size.

The low-lying island would give shorebirds a place to nest, give mangroves and seagrasses a place to take root and attract fish, island proponents said. Rocks that would hold the island in place would give oysters a toehold.

“I don’t know anybody who wasn’t in favor of the island,” Naples Natural Resources Manager Mike Bauer said.

Costs started escalating, though, as engineers discovered the muck was especially silty and would not be stable enough to build an island without putting the muck in containers first.

To fill the containers, an expensive polymer would have to be added to remove the water from the muck. The island would then have to be covered with a geotextile, an 8-inch-thick layer of shell and vegetation.

A state Department of Environmental Protection permit, issued last month, also has costly requirements for monitoring the island and maintaining it. A federal permit had been pending.

The habitat island’s demise Wednesday capped a rough road for the project, starting with opposition from Royal Harbor residents who feared the island would ruin their views. The city moved the island site farther south in the bay, away from homes.

The plans also ran afoul of a state moratorium on man-made islands. Gov. Rick Scott later lifted the ban in response to lobbying from Naples officials.

Island plans might still have a shot at becoming reality.

Bauer said he is asking for grant money from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill compensation fund to build the island.

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