By any measure the situation at Clam Pass in North Naples is alarming.
Even during high tide the pass is all but closed. Shifting sands have plugged the important waterway connecting the open Gulf of Mexico with the rare and beautiful ecosystem that runs several miles from the Seagate neighborhood to the northern reaches of Pelican Bay. The mangrove-lined inner bay separates the backside of the barrier beaches from residential areas and serves as a safe harbor for all sorts of flora and fauna.
Now the ecosystem's future is threatened. And, it should come as no surprise.
It's long been known that occasional maintenance dredging is needed to keep the pass open. Yet, here we are — the pass has drifted closed, an emergency has been declared and the necessary permits are still lacking.
What's the problem?
It comes down to politics and leadership. In a sense, it's Collier County's version of a fiscal cliff.
At issue is a disagreement on how wide the pass should be dredged. It's part of a turf fight. Certain interests in Pelican Bay prefer a narrower opening than interests in neighboring Seagate, which features homes on canals and boat docks. There's fear a large opening at Clam Pass will be an invitation to boaters in the Gulf to pay a visit.
With the exception of Mother Nature, all parties agree that the pass needs to be open. The consequences are too apparent. A closed pass will reduce the natural flushing action of the tides. The mangroves need an open pass to survive. In turn, the ecosystem needs the mangroves.
Although a dispute between two residential areas has fostered this emergency, they are not the only stakeholders.
Clam Pass and its ecosystem are treasures that belong to all of us. One of Collier County's largest beach-access parking areas is linked to the sand and sunsets by a half-mile boardwalk that features public tram service. Adjacent to the parking lot is a public kayak and canoe launch.
Although the winter dry season may buy us time, our cliff looms. Come late spring and early summer, daily rains will pour fresh water into the ecosystem. If the pass is still blocked, there will be no flushing action and no outlet for the rainwater. Levels will rise and mangroves will die.
Here's hoping our elected leaders on the local level don't push us to the brink.