Marco Island pauses swale upgrades during season, plans to cover 3,000 feet during FY 2020

A swale is covered with grass on N. Bahama Ave. in Marco Island on Feb. 28, 2020.

Swales are strips of land, usually located between a sidewalk and a street, which serve as natural drainage for rainwater, while filtering and reducing the amount of pollutants that end up in canals.

The depth of the swales decreases over time reducing its ability to hold large amounts of water and sometimes even causing the roads to flood during rainy season, according to Jason Tomassetti, Public Works' stormwater engineer. 

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"Over time the swale may collect sediment and debris and need to be regraded so they function as designed," Tomassetti wrote in an email on Feb. 28.

The city budgeted $100,000 for fiscal year 2020 to continue upgrading the swales on S. Collier Blvd. and other areas but the work is on hold, according to Tomassetti.

"We have a budget for [...] $100,000 worth of swale grading to be done and they (Eli Contracting) have done 2,000 feet so far and we have done about a 1,000," Tomassetti said during a Waterways Advisory Committee meeting on Feb. 20. "We have about 3,000 feet done."

"Right now we are on hold because of the congestion and the traffic [...] and some of the utility conflicts so we won't resume until after Easter." 

Tomassetti said Eli Contracting must complete at least an additional 1,000 linear feet of swale regrading under the most recent purchase order.

"Every 1,000 feet is about $30,000 so he is probably got another 1,000, maybe 2,000 feet under that purchase order," Tomassetti said at the meeting.

Fiscal year 2019 had no real budget for swale grading, according to Public Works Director Tim Pinter.

"We used a Capital Fund to create (two) purchase orders," Pinter wrote in an email on Feb. 28. "Eli proposed to do 1,000 linear feet for [...] $30,000, therefore we got 2,000 linear feet for a little over $60,000."

For fiscal year 2020, City Council added $100,000 to Public Work's capital improvement budget for this same operation, according to Pinter. 

"We are waiting for Eli’s proposal for this year's work but expect that it will be close to the cost from 2019," Pinter wrote. "Therefore, we expect to have 3,000 linear feet of swale grading done in 2020."

"Any remaining funds in this account will be used for time and materials for our crews to also do swale grading, or we will add additional footage to Eli’s contracts." 

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Tomassetti warned about people or businesses who take it upon themselves to dig on or regrade the swales.

"If people are digging or modifying swales without a permit, there is a possibility they could cause flooding problems," Tomassetti wrote.

Swales should be kept grassy or covered with ground cover approved by the city so they can continue picking up solids and harmful pollutants, according to the city's website. By keeping the swales in their natural state, it adds beauty and thereby increasing property values.

Gravel, shell or loose material are not permitted in the swales. 

"Swales paved with asphalt or built up with dirt can cause health, environmental and aesthetic hazards," according to the website. "Rain water can collect and stagnate or may run off the paved surface, picking up leaves, litter, animal waste, oil, etc., that will contaminate our water resources."

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Pinter said the city made notches to some stormwater inlet structures to increase the water flow coming from swales by bypassing it filters.

"As for the changes to the inlet structures, that was at the direction by previous council and a previous city manager to respond to citizens that were complaining about water standing in their swales," Pinter said during a City Council meeting on Feb. 3. 

"Council [...] directed the city manager to have Public Works Department, prior to my [...] directorship, to [...] basically cut notches in these inlet structures to let the flow of water go in and bypass the filters."

Pinter became director of Public Works in June 2010.

David Harden, interim city manager in 2019, directed Public Works to replace the notches, according to Pinter. 

"It's not our number one priority but that's something we are doing to allow more water to sit in the swales, to percolate before it goes into the filters," Pinter said

Homeowners are required to maintain the swales around their property in good condition. To ensure the swale areas stay that way, the city asks property owners to follow these guidelines:

  • Keep your swale free of leaves, limbs and any other debris. Dispose of debris and oil properly, instead of placing them in your swale.
  • Avoid parking vehicles on the swale. This will allow the grass to grow healthy and keep the soil loose so water can filter and soak into the ground more easily.
  • If you have to pave your swale for driveway access, pave just the section you need and leave the rest in its natural state. Remember that paving over a swale requires a city permit, since pavement is considered a permanent structure.
  • Landscaping your swale area can be pleasing to the eye, but it also disrupts the natural drainage qualities of the swale. Consider landscaping behind your property line you will still add beauty to your home while keeping the swale in its natural state. All landscaping within the swale areas shall be in accordance with established procedures approved by the city.

Omar Rodríguez Ortiz is a community reporter for Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram as @Omar_fromPR, and on Facebook. Support his work by subscribing to Naples Daily News.

A swale near Caxambas Park in Marco Island was not covered with grass on Feb. 19, 2020.