By Dave Trecker
What's happening with the political football that is Clam Pass?
Things are progressing. They really are. There's still posturing and way too much finger-pointing. But real progress is being made toward opening the clogged pass.
Here's what's happened so far.
The pass was surveyed, and a dredging plan was recommended by coastal engineers. The Pelican Bay Services Division (PBSD) endorsed the plan as a one-time emergency measure, and the county commissioners approved it.
The plan calls for a cut of 45 feet wide and 5 feet deep at the mouth of the pass and extensive dredging inland.
The plan is the basis for a Nationwide 27 permit, apparently the fastest way to approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The permit application will be filed with the Corps shortly.
In addition, changes are being made to a dredging application already on file with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the other permitting agency.
The county commissioners expedited procurement, and five excavating companies were identified. Things should move quickly once permits are in hand.
Timing? No one knows for sure. Best guess is the permits will be issued in March, and dredging will begin no later than April. But there are no guarantees.
For most – certainly for the beachgoers who have been hacking away at the shoal – this has been a frustrating experience. Everyone hates the bureaucracy. No one understands why approval should take so long.
No argument there. We're all frustrated. But given the circumstances, things are moving about as fast as they can.
And that didn't just happen. Some people stepped up big time.
Commissioner Georgia Hiller forced decisions and drove the process. Without her leadership, we would still be arguing among ourselves.
PBSD Administrator Neil Dorrill worked overtime to coordinate the process – assembling plans, locating excavators and bringing regulators on board.
Kudos also to Susan O'Brien, chair of the PBSD Clam Bay subcommittee; to Ted Raia, president of the Mangrove Action Group; and to many others who contributed.
And a big thanks to the outside experts. Ken Humiston of Humiston & Moore turned out the dredging plan in record time. And Tim Hall of Turrell Hall Associates, an expert on all things Clam Bay, coordinated planning and interfaced with the agencies.
It's too early for any bows, but it's not too early to start thinking about the future. The PBSD is laying the groundwork for a long-range management plan for Clam Bay – a comprehensive blueprint for dealing with the pass, the waterways, the plants and the wildlife.
But that's way down the road. For the moment, all eyes are on the clogged pass – and on the permitting agencies. We are very much at their mercy. So are the mangroves.