Collier closes sections of Caxambas Park marina for repairs during busy holidays
Collier County closed Caxambas Park's docks and boat ramp on Tuesday for repairs, possibly until Jan. 1, but only told tour companies a day in advance, a county official said.
Melissa Hennig, regional manager with parks and recreation, said the county made the decision Monday after learning that contractors were ready to start the next day.
"This was an emergency response due to damage from the storm so we weren't 100% sure when they were going to start," Hennig said Tuesday.
Tropical Storm Eta caused new damage to the park's docks in November, further deteriorating the popular water access point on Marco Island battered by previous storms.
Capt. Chris Rilley, owner of Florida Adventures and Rentals, said Tuesday the sudden closure of the marina's facilities could not come at a worse time as his business tries to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Christmas and New Year's are the busiest weeks of the year for ecotourism," Rilley said.
Rilley also said the closures may result in too many people congregating in a nearby county-owned marina on Goodland.
"It jeopardizes the safety of the passengers and the crew," Rilley said.
Collier County Commissioner Rick LoCastro, who represents Marco and nearby communities, said Tuesday the county's plan was "unacceptable." LoCastro said he first learned about it through social media.
"What was not acceptable to me is that business owners were given a letter dated yesterday (Monday), and told that today (Tuesday) the ramp would be closed," LoCastro said.
LoCastro said he contacted county staff and participated in a meeting with staff and the contractor on Tuesday evening to look into options that would alleviate the impact on businesses like Rilley's.
The ramp and one dock reopened for some time on Tuesday only to be closed again the next day.
"During this time of COVID, when these business owners have already taken a huge hit, shutting down Caxambas ramp today until the first of January is unacceptable," LoCastro said.
Barry Williams, director of parks and recreation, said contractors closed the area again on Wednesday to avoid accidents.
"Once a contractor has possession of the property, whatever happens on the property is on the contractor's liability, so if anything happens at all it is his responsibility," Williams said.
On Wednesday morning, Williams said the county was considering allowing tour companies to operate during weekends and holidays because the contractor will not be on site.
After meeting the contractor again on Wednesday, Williams said it is not likely the contractor will agree to it because they are concerned about being liable if an accident happens at their construction site.
"We are hopeful to be done by next Wednesday but it could take until Jan. 1 to complete the repairs," Williams said.
Hennig said last month a storm surge caused by Tropical Storm Eta damaged the fixed docks on both sides of the boat ramp on Nov. 11.
One of the structural wood pieces, called a stringer, underneath the fixed dock needs to be repaired. Hennig said it would cost $4,200 to repair the fixed dock.
Hennig said two of three floating docks 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.
During Tropical Storm Eta one of the floating docks started to sink as the devices that keep it floating became dislodged.
On Tuesday, the remnants of the floating docks had been removed and their replacements were on site. The replacements will cost the county $34,000, according to a bid document provided by Hennig.
Capt. Carlos Escarra, owner of Gone Fishin' Charters and Nautical Life Shelling Tours, said last month he uses the park to pick up his clients and sometimes to put gas in 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."
Rilley said at the time 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."
The docks were not the only part of Caxambas Park that was damaged in November.
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.
The docks, originally built in the late 1990s, were repaired in 2004 and again in 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 last month boat captains were working well to share the only working floating dock but it was going to get more crowded if the docks were not fixed for the holidays.
"During season it's going to be a nightmare," he said.