Tropical Storm Eta causes new damage to docks at Caxambas Park on Marco Island. What now?

Tropical Storm Eta caused new damage to Caxambas Park's docks on Marco Island last week, further deteriorating the popular water access point battered by previous storms, a Collier County official said.

Melissa Hennig, regional manager of Collier County's Parks and Recreation, said a storm surge damaged the fixed docks on both sides of the boat ramp on Nov. 11.

"When you step on it, it bounces and moves on both ends," Hennig said.

One of the structural wood pieces underneath the dock called stringer needs to be repaired, but it is too early to say how much it will cost, Hennig said.

Hennig said the new damage may delay the replacement of two floating docks that were set to be installed the first week of December. They were damaged in August as Tropical Storm Laura moved across the Gulf of Mexico and again in September after Tropical Storm Sally split them in half.

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Last week, one of the floating docks started to sink as the devices that keep it floating  became dislodged.

"I'm hoping we can repair (the fixed docks) so we can stay in line with this timeline to at least get the floating docks going," Hennig said.

The replacement of the floating docks will cost the county $34,000, according to a bid document provided by Hennig. The affected areas have been cordoned off with yellow caution tape but the boat ramp is still operational.

Capt. Carlos Escarra, owner of Gone Fishin' Charters and Nautical Life Shelling Tours, said he uses the park to pick up his clients and sometimes to put gas on his boat. Since September, all commercial and recreational boat captains have had to share a third floating dock that has survived recent storms.

"The other charter businesses that pick up there were very courteous to everybody," Escarra said. "I got clients waiting and they will move out of the way so I can pick up my clients."

Capt. Chris Rilley, owner of Florida Adventures and Rentals, said his business is struggling as his company pays thousands of dollars every year to launch boats and use the marina.

"We pay a lot to the county and we can't even utilize it right now," Rilley said. "It's definitely affecting our scheduling and the overall fluidity of our chores."

Caxambas Park's docks on Marco Island take a beating from the waves caused by Tropical Storm Eta on Nov. 11, 2020. The docks were initially damaged during Tropical Storm Sally in September.

The docks were not the only part of Caxambas Park that was damaged last week.

Several holes appeared in the gravel along the seawall, including two near a gas pump, photos show. Hennig said they could be a sign that the seawall is moving.

"We are going to have to work with our Facilities Management Department to get an engineer to look at it to assess the integrity of it," Hennig said.

The holes were later filled and the gas pumps inspected. "They were not damaged," Hennig wrote in an email.

Hennig said boat captains can only get gas from land in allowable containers and not directly from their boats until repairs are completed. Escarra and Rilley said they now must purchase fuel elsewhere.

The boat and boat lift of the Marco Island Police Department at Caxambas Park are operational, Capt. Dave Baer wrote in an email Nov. 16.

"The lift is operational, however we know that an electrical breaker associated with the lift was tripped during the storm – we believe due to water intrusion," he wrote.

"We are asking an electrician to check the system thoroughly, however as indicated they (the boat and lift) are operational."

The docks, originally built in the late 1990s, were repaired in 2004 and again 2017 after Hurricane Irma made landfall on the island, according to Hennig. In 2019, more than 65,000 people visited the park.

Hennig said the docks are set to be completely replaced but it will take "a couple of years."

"So any fix (now) would be to make it safe enough," Hennig.

Escarra said boat captains are working well to share the only working floating dock but it may soon get more crowded if the docks are not fixed before the beginning of high season.

"During season it's going to be a nightmare," he said.

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