Collier staff, Army Corps work out issues for Clam Pass dredging permit

Dania Maxwell/Staff 
 Tom Rafferty, of Michigan, photographs shovels used by himself and many others in a recent effort to reopen the waterways at Clam Pass on Jan. 8, 2013, in Naples. The effort was put to rest after environmental permitting complications. Sand build-up at Clam Pass has clogged what used to be open water flows between Clam Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It is uncertain how long it will be before a dredge starts pumping sand out of the clogged pass.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL, NAPLES DAILY NEWS // Buy this photo

Dania Maxwell/Staff Tom Rafferty, of Michigan, photographs shovels used by himself and many others in a recent effort to reopen the waterways at Clam Pass on Jan. 8, 2013, in Naples. The effort was put to rest after environmental permitting complications. Sand build-up at Clam Pass has clogged what used to be open water flows between Clam Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It is uncertain how long it will be before a dredge starts pumping sand out of the clogged pass.

— The long-awaited environmental permit to reopen sand-clogged Clam Pass in North Naples could shake loose in the next two weeks, a consultant working on the job said.

Since ever-shifting sands shut the pass late last year, concerns have swirled about what it would mean for the health of the estuary it feeds and how much sand would be removed.

An engineering and environmental consultant met Friday with permitters at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and were able to come to agreement over the last few details that have stymied a fast-track permit for the work, environmental consultant Tim Hall said.

Hall declared himself cautiously optimistic about the timing of the permit after the meeting: "I am ever optimistic, but you never know."

He said all the issues have been resolved among those at the meeting but that it is always possible higher-ups will have other concerns.

An existing permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection also will have to be modified before the project can start.

Collier County commissioners have directed the county's purchasing department to have a dredging crew ready to start work as soon as the permit lands on county desks.

A conflict between federal and state rules about where to put the sand removed from the pass was among the last hurdles to overcome in the staff's bid for the permit.

Federal permitters had been saying the rules for the permit required that the sand be taken away and not put on adjacent beaches at Pelican Bay and Clam Pass Park, but state law requires that the sand be put on the beach, Hall said.

He said he plans to resolve the federal concerns by submitting new engineering drawings with minor adjustments to where the sand is placed as it relates to the high tide line.

The fast-track permit has met with resistance from environmental groups, which have cited concerns about the plans being environmentally damaging by dredging more sand out of the pass than is needed to reopen it.

Hall said the dredger will stay at least 5 feet from mangrove roots, and the plans have been adjusted to move the dredging 50 feet to lessen effects on sea grasses.

One environmental advocate said she would have to look at the latest dredging plans before she could say whether they satisfy environmental objections.

"I expect there will be a lot of us asking questions," said Marcia Cravens, conservation chair of the Calusa Group of the Sierra Club. "The devil is in the details."

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