Fast tracked: County dredging Collier Creek inlet on emergency basis
Often, the wheels of government action grind with excruciating slowness, but sometimes, “we’re from the government and we’re to help you” can be true.
That would seem to be the case with the dredging of Collier Creek, now well underway after county officials fast-tracked the project on an emergency basis in the aftermath of serious storm damage.
Even before Hurricane Irma struck, strong currents, shallow water and a no-wake zone have long made for a difficult passage at the entrance to Collier Creek off of Capri Pass, used by approximately one third of the island’s boaters as their access to the area’s cruising grounds.
At the Dec. 4 Marco Island City Council meeting, Collier County Coastal Zone Management Manager Gary McAlpin gave the councilors a presentation regarding Collier Creek, which was so riddled with seawall and dock debris from Hurricane Irma that the Christmas Island Style committee had to cancel its annual boat parade.
Around this time of year the creek is usually about 10 feet deep, McAlpin said in December, but due to all of the debris now resting on the creek bed, it's only about 4 to 5 feet deep, which drastically limits the size of boats that are able to navigate the creek.
"We're treating it as a serious issue," he said in the meeting, "and we're looking to get it resolved as quickly as possible."
McAlpin asked the Collier County Board of Commissioners to declare the Collier Creek situation an emergency and waive any competitive bidding so that the restoration effort could begin immediately. As of Feb. 14, with a total of 14,000 cubic yards of sand, muck and debris scheduled to be removed from the channel, the job was approximately one third complete, said McAlpin. He expected the dredging to be complete in about three weeks.
Contractor Brance Diversified of Jacksonville is being paid approximately $568,000 for the actual dredging, said McAlpin, although with engineering and inspections, the total cost will be higher, as much as $1.3 million. Collier County is paying for the project with tourist tax funds, but the county hopes to be reimbursed from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.)
On Wednesday, a power shovel on a barge, anchored in the stiff current, scooped up bucket after bucket of bucket from the bottom and deposited the material as boats eased gingerly past. The operator kept the rig moving nonstop, but did pause for a moment to give a playful wave of the shovel to a photographer on the shore-side docks.
“We on Marco Island are so grateful that the County declared the Collier Creek issue as an emergency so that the BCCC could move forward and authorize an immediate dredging to open up a channel,” said Marco Island City Councilor and Collier County Waterways Advisory Council member Bob Brown. “This waterway handles approximately 33 percent of Marco Island's boater traffic along with a major business area at the Esplanade. This dredging will create a safe passage for boaters throughout the season.”
At the Ville de Marco condominiums at the mouth of the Collier Creek inlet, not only the docks, but the seawall and the entire point of land vanished in the storm, swept away by Irma’s waves and wind. Multistory condo buildings that were surrounded by dry land now have open water underneath, although the pilings driven deep beneath the structures protect them from collapsing into the waterway, said Ville de Marco West association president Ben Farnsworth.
To help out the condo owners protect their dwellings, Farnsworth implored boaters transiting the Collier Creek channel to honor the “no wake” signs prominently posted.
“Waves erode more sand from underneath our buildings. Until we get our seawall back, we have no protection” from the effects of boat wakes, he said.
Lisa Conley contributed to this report.