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Heavy machinery hauls sand for Marco Island beach regrading project Karl Schneider, kschneider@news-press.com

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The beach on Marco Island is getting an upgrade, actually a regrade.

Heavy construction equipment will be moving more than 100,000 cubic yards of sand from the shoreline up to the dunes. The project extends about a mile between Sand Dollar Island south to the Madeira Beach public access point.

The $1.2 million project began earlier this month and is expected to be completed by mid-April, according to a news release from Collier County. The time frame of the project is scheduled around the nesting season of sea turtles.

The project will “reduce public health concerns resulting from residual/unsightly algae growth due to ponding water,” the release says.

More: FWC announces sea turtle nesting totals for 2018

Once completed, the beach’s “positive drainage” will be improved, providing, as the release says, “a more suitable sea turtle nesting habitat.”

Ponding occurs during rains and higher tides, said Ruth McCann, executive director of the Marco Island Civic Association.

“There are a couple of benefits with doing the project,” McCann said. “There was a low spot on the beach, from the north end down to the J.W. Marriott. The project will fill in that dip, so we won’t have ponding and grass won’t grow in the sand.”

A call to the Florida Department of Health regarding the public health concerns of ponding was not returned.

Sea turtle nesting season begins May 1, according to Dave Addison, a senior biologist at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

The city of Marco Island’s website says “on average, there are 80 loggerhead sea turtle nests per year on the four miles of Marco Island’s beach.”

Addison said the main factor for successful sea turtle nesting is maintaining a dark beach.

“As far as the turtles are concerned, if there’s sand there and the slope isn’t too steep, they’ll nest,” Addison said.

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The city of Marco Island provides a beach lighting compliance checklist on its website so residents and property owners are aware of how to keep sea turtles content during nesting season.

Ruth McCann, executive director of the Marco Island Civic Association, said there was an additional benefit to the regrading project.

“There will be a shorter walk to the water,” she said. “The walk especially will be shorter on the northern end of the project.”

The regrade won’t shorten the walk all the way down the project’s length because the amount of sand moved will vary.

Collier County community liaison Connie Deane said the project is funded through Tourist Developments funds. The Tourist Development Tax is a 5 percent levy on rental income coming in from short-term rentals and hotel stays, according to the Collier County Tax Collector's website. The income is received from rentals lasting six months or less. 

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During an Oct. 25 Collier County Coastal Advisory Committee meeting, staff recommended that “dune plantings be removed from the standard easement agreement with private property owners,” according to the meeting’s minutes. Property owners were concerned that plants on the dunes would block views of the ocean. The eight members of the Coastal Advisory Committee unanimously voted in favor of the recommendation.

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In an Oct. 15 letter to the Collier County Manager Leo Ochs, Marco Island Council Chair Jared Grifoni recommended the plantings be removed from the easement language "to proceed with the project in a timely manner."

Dune plantings are important to keep the dunes in place and prevent them from migrating toward the land, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report

"It is important to plant at least a few rows of plants to replace those destroyed in the shaping operation," the report says.

Residents and visitors of Marco Island beach will continue to have access to the beach throughout the project. "The project is split into four different areas, so it does not impede beach access," McCann said. 

The project is scheduled to wrap up on April 15. 

 

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