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MARCO ISLAND — The controversy over climate change, global warming and sea level rise strikes pretty close to home on Marco Island. This is an issue where Islanders are perfectly sincere when they say, “not in my backyard.”
Even if mean high tide levels remain constant, a low-lying island such as Marco, sticking out into the Gulf of Mexico and honeycombed by an estimated 90 miles of canals, must deal with millions of dollars worth of seawall repairs in the decades to come, as the aging structures built in the middle years of the last century reach the end of their useful life and slowly crumble back into the water. As much as 50 miles of the structures are likely to fail within the next 10 years, necessitating vital and costly repair, and with homes built on the lots, both where the seawalls need repair, and on either side, and vacant lots for “staging” harder and harder to come by, this is a situation that affects both waterfront homeowners and the island as a whole.
There has been much talk of “quiet enjoyment” of one’s home at city meetings, and no one wants the noise, mess and inconvenience of having the neighbor’s seawall worked on. Working in its capacity as a citizen forum to provide input to the City Council, the Waterways Advisory Committee has been holding meeting after meeting, going over revised technical specifications for the city’s seawall ordinance, and also the Seawall Owners’ Manual, with everything you wanted to know about care and maintenance of your seawall.
The Waterways Advisory Committee, or WAC, held their most recent meeting Thursday afternoon, seated around a U-shaped table on the side of City Council chambers, after missing their scheduled July meeting. What was on the agenda as the “final” review of the seawall manual was tabled until the next meeting, to give members the opportunity to read it through again after the electronic file for the entire original document, which was lost, had to be retyped.
“Definitely reread it. I’m an engineer, and is spelling were important, I’d have been kicked off the island years ago,” said WAC Chairman Richard Shanahan. He did point out one passage in the document’s introduction, which seemed to imply that a building lot purchaser might be responsible for repairing the adjacent neighbor’s seawall, and changes regarding riprap and filter fabric were noted.
“Another three weeks won’t matter,” said Public Works Director Tim Pinter, staff liaison to the WAC, urging them to weed out errors before the document is finalized for the public. The committee did finalize their recommendations for technical specifications on the seawall ordinance on a 6-0 vote, sending the specs on to the City Council, which has the final say.
Lina Upham of the Community Affairs Department briefed the committee on an issue that ties into seawall construction and repair, the movement of work barges through the island’s canals, particularly squeezing them underneath the low bridges. She displayed an updated seawall permit application, which requires the contractor to specify if a barge will be used for construction, and if so, what size. This, said Upham and Pinter, will allow the city to identify what company’s equipment has caused any damage that results from a barge striking a bridge.
The only time that would cause more than “spalling,” or chipping of concrete, said Pinter, would be if a barge broke a sewer or water line attached to the bridge, and those are several inches above the bottom of the span.
“Usually, the neighbors call at 8 a.m. and say, ‘I was woken up by a collision.’ We’ve never had severe structural damage,” said Pinter.
The WAC also worked on revising their mission statement. A section about monitoring water depths in island canals, work which used to be done by a resident who has since left Marco, launched a discussion of how often this needed to be checked, and who would do the work.
“The only time we hear about a problem is when somebody gets a new boat lift, and they can’t float their boat,” said Shanahan.
“I’m more than willing to monitor key areas,” said WAC member Jim Timmerman. “I’m on the water all the time.”
“If you want to start, that’s exactly what we’re looking for,” said Pinter.
The committee heard from city Environmental Specialist Nancy Richie on water quality in and around Marco. The island has been spared the red tide outbreaks that have plagued communities to the north, and has not seen any fish kills. The only algae seen has been a “mat algae,” which grows when sea grasses die off and is not toxic.
Timmerman obtained agreement from his fellow members to discuss his concept for improving the quality of Marco waters through re-introduction of native species, specifically filter feeders such as oysters. City Councilor Amadeo Petricca rose from the audience during the public comment segment of the meeting to “float” the idea of soliciting boaters to help with monitoring the waterways in their own areas.
The next WAC meeting is scheduled for Sept. 19.