MARCO ISLAND — It’s the perfect storm of a narrow creek, swift water and bad boating, law agencies agreed. The combination has resulted in at least four serious boating accidents with some damage to Villa de Marco West’s dock, said Ben Farnsworth, the condominium’s manager.
Officials from Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Marco Island Police Department and Coast Guard Auxiliary weighed in on the problem Thursday during Marco Island’s Waterways Advisory Committee meeting.
The neck of Collier Creek is the only entrance into Collier and Smokehouse bays. Since construction of the Esplanade and more residences in the area, boat traffic through the creek has increased, said Marco Island’s Assistant Police Chief Dave Baer.
The narrow entrance also is located off the Marco River, creating a highly tidal and swift flowing current. Strong currents have been exacerbated by shifting breaches through Sand Dollar Island. Emergency dredging of Collier Creek did little to correct the problem, David Barrett of the wildlife commission agreed.
Barrett said the first time he tried to enter the creek when the tide was turbulent, he was taken by surprise and quickly made corrections by increasing speed to navigate the craft away from structures. If a boater were not paying attention, he said, it would be easy to get set too far and collide with the dock or seawall.
Farnsworth said when the tide is high, water is so turbulent a wave line forms. Boats over 40 feet get swept 10-15 feet off course trying to get through the pass.
Baer and Barrett said they were unaware of any reported incidents in the area and told Farnsworth boaters are required by law to report accidents and damage including collisions. Failure to do so could result in criminal charges.
In one instance, Farnsworth said, the offender fled before residents could secure any information on the boater or vessel.
“There are also chronic offenders, speeding though the pass,” he said. “We need you (law enforcement) to station a monitor in the area, a designated individual to give warnings to boaters.”
Law agencies lamented that resources and manpower were stretched very thinly. Baer said he has only one marine officer. To cover all canals and waterways in his jurisdiction takes more than 50 hours, he said.
“Canals are streets in back of everyone’s homes,” he said. Baer would like to be able to monitor waterways with the intensity streets are patrolled, but staff and resources are limited.
FWC has 18 officers patrolling from Sanibel to the Shark River and up to 200 miles offshore. Placing a monitor at Collier Creek’s entrance would not be feasible, Barrett said.
Harold Lee, vice commodore of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 95, said the group cooperates with police by being a presence on the water, but it has no enforcement capability. Helping improve boater skills, he said, would be one area where Coast Guard education could help.
The committee discussed ways to improve local knowledge of the area. Baer asked residents to report any incidents to his office by calling (239) 389-5050. After five or on weekends 911 dispatchers answer, but the call is handled as a non emergency, he said.
“Placing a dock over state-owned waters is a privilege not a right,” Mark Mahoney of the wildlife commission told Jim Timmerman of the waterways committee before the meeting. “If it becomes a hazard to navigation, the dock may need to be pulled back or removed.”
The committee scheduled its next meeting for 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 3, in the Community Room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive.