Oooh that smell: Sand-choked Clam Bay estuary starting to stink

Dania Maxwell/Staff 
 A rope swing hangs over shallow water at Clam Pass on January 8, 2013, in Naples, Fla. Passerby's said it was not long ago that the water underneath was about 8-feet deep. 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 A rope swing hangs over shallow water at Clam Pass on January 8, 2013, in Naples, Fla. Passerby's said it was not long ago that the water underneath was about 8-feet deep. It is uncertain how long it will be before a dredge starts pumping sand out of the clogged pass.

Video from NBC-2

Clam Pass lovers have been wringing their hands as the wrangling has dragged on over an environmental permit to unclog the sand-choked North Naples waterway.

Now they are holding their noses too.

With little to no tidal exchange with the Gulf of Mexico through the pass, the mangrove-lined Clam Bay estuary is starting to stink — think horse stable or petting zoo — from the back yards of the Seagate neighborhood to the high-rise condominiums in the Pelican Bay neighborhood.

Sniffing the air Tuesday afternoon at the kayak launch on Clam Bay, anglers Jeff Jukim, 24, and Kyle Glivic, 22, said they would forge ahead with their plans for an afternoon on the water anyway.

"That's definitely not what it's supposed to smell like," Jukim said. "It'll make you think twice the next time."

Smells and mangrove forests often go together — naturally. The chemical functions of a mangrove forest can produce a rotten egg smell, and the bodily functions of roosting pelicans can be odorous. With two tides a day, the smells are usually unnoticeable.

"It's worse because of the lack of flushing," said biologist Tim Hall, a county consultant working to get the permits to reopen Clam Pass.

The push to get the elusive environmental permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has shifted gears in the past week, with a decision by county consultants to pursue a one-time permit approval instead of continuing on the county's more complicated track of getting a 10-year dredging permit. The county had been trying to get that permit for two years, before the pass closed up in December.

The county will resume the push for a new 10-year permit as part of a longer term effort to bring stakeholders together to write a new management plan for Clam Bay. The permit has been mired in controversy over the width of the dredge cut at the pass.

Under the one-time approval, a track hoe would be driven onto the beach to scoop out sand to be placed on adjacent beaches. With concerns swirling over the size of the emergency cut, excavation plans could be ready by the end of the week.

The Pelican Bay Services Division, an arm of county government that is pursuing the permit, is set to review the plans in an emergency meeting Monday. Collier County commissioners might have their say Tuesday.

It is still unclear how quickly the emergency permit could be issued, but Pelican Bay Services Division executive director Neil Dorrill said it could be as soon as 30 days.

"The good news is we're on a fast track," said Susan O'Brien, chairwoman of the Services Division subcommittee on Clam Bay, which met Tuesday.

"The bad news is it's not going to happen tomorrow."

The stench from Clam Bay is putting a new twist on worries about the closed pass causing environmental damage to the mangroves, seagrasses and wildlife that live in Clam Bay.

Seagate Property Owners Association President David Buser said he first noticed the stink when he was working in his back yard last week. He rode his bicycle around the neighborhood and found the smell was widespread.

"It's horrible for Seagate to be living in these conditions," Buser said. "It's just wrong."

Pelican Bay resident Scott Streckenbein kayaked the length of Clam Bay's tidal creeks on Friday and instead of trees full of wading birds reported finding a half-dozen dead seagulls and anhingas, a dozen dead fish and rotting oysters on the exposed roots of mangrove trees.

"It was almost haunting," he said. "Where's all the wildlife?"

Tourist Molly Jenks, from Boston, boarded a tram Tuesday to Clam Pass Park wondering whether there was a horse trail nearby.

"Who would have thought pelicans smell like horses," she said.

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Comments » 1

Sparky100 writes:

Over 30 days for an emergency permit, kind of defeats the word emergency. Hire a qualified contractor now and tell anyone that has to approve it to get there butts there before the heavy equipment does. The government has no problem shutting something down instantly for what they think is an emergency, how about returning the favor here.

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