Marco Island tells Collier to restore Tigertail lagoon
Marco Island City Council unanimously passed a motion Monday in support of a dredging and restoration plan for Tigertail lagoon to improve tidal flow and protect its ecosystem.
The motion also instructed city staff to work with Collier County, owner of the Tigertail Beach Park, to move the project forward.
Councilor Erik Brechnitz said the county could use tourist tax dollars, a 5% charge on hotel and other short-term rental stays, to fund the project.
"It is the county's responsibility to maintain this and to keep it as a tourist development attraction," Brechnitz said.
A 2018 study by Humiston & Moore Engineers and other firms concluded tidal exchange at Tigertail has decreased since 2003, endangering its ecosystem.
Mohamed Dabees, vice president of the company, said waves hitting an adjacent sandbar have been eroding it for decades, slowly closing the only permanent water access to the lagoon.
Dabees said the situation worsened in 2017 when Hurricane Irma made landfall on the island.
"The migration and deterioration of the central part (of the sandbar) threatens the water quality and the integrity of this system," Dabees said.
The project consists of dredging a section of the lagoon to improve tidal flow and using the excess sand to restore the sandbar known as Sand Dollar Island to pre-Irma conditions.
If nothing is done, Dabees said the sandbar will collapse, permanently closing off part of the lagoon and exposing nearby infrastructure to waves coming from the Gulf of Mexico.
"In the case of an extreme (weather) event, we are not going to be as vulnerable as we are right now," Dabees said.
If the project receives all state and federal permits, construction could begin as soon as the first quarter of next year, according to Dabees.
Dabees said it is too early to say how much construction would cost because the project is at a conceptual stage.
Linda Ryan, board member of the Hideaway Beach Tax District, said the district has spent about $3 million since 2013 to keep the northern end of Tigertail lagoon open.
Known for its luxury real estate, the Hideaway tax district is the city's special district in charge of paying for Hideaway's beach maintenance.
Dabees said the district, which commissioned the 2018 study, funded smaller-scale dredges of the lagoon in 2013, 2016 and 2019.
Last month, City Council approved a purchase order to Dabees' firm for $86,200 to, among other things, consult with stakeholders and apply for permits for the project.
Ryan said the district needs the city's help to get the support of the Collier Commission.
"We are asking for your support and leadership in saving Tigertail lagoon," Ryan said.
From December:FWC identifies sickness that killed threatened black skimmers on Marco Island
August:Stranded manatee rescued on Marco Island waters after getting stuck during low tide
Dabees said the county determined several years ago it was not going to move forward with the project because it is difficult to acquire environmental permits due to the lagoon's Critical Wildlife Area designation.
"They (environmental agencies) are willing to work with us into trying to find a more balanced approach," Dabees said.
Dabees said another reason the county said no last time was because officials were not sure tourist tax dollars could be used to restore the lagoon.
Commissioner Rick LoCastro, who represents East Naples and Marco Island, said during the meeting that he supports the project.
"I'm not going to ignore this issue or kick the can," LoCastro said.
Barry Williams, director of Collier County Parks and Recreation Department, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Councilor Richard Blonna, who said he has kayaked in the lagoon for the past 10 years, said it serves as a recreational area for the entire region, not just Marco.
"To see it degrade the way it has been...it has been heartbreaking," Blonna said.
Manatees were rescued from the lagoon last year after becoming stranded due to low tides, and more than 100 seabirds were found sick and dying on Sand Dollar Island.
Veterinarians diagnosed the birds with bacterial dermatitis, tendinitis and osteomyelitis, but the source of the pathogen is unknown, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Michelle Kerr told the Naples Daily News last month.
"The lagoon will become stagnant affecting the wildlife population currently enjoyed in this area," said Linda Colombo, president of the nonprofit Friends of Tigertail.
Tigertail Beach Park received 158,462 visitors in fiscal 2019 resulting in $366,993 gross revenue from parking fees alone, Williams said last summer.
From September:More than $1M in improvements coming to Tigertail Beach Park on Marco Island
July:Tigertail beach rental to shut down after dispute with Collier; Fiala speaks out
The county is spending more than $1 million in park improvements like a new upper-level deck next to the the food concessions area, new playground attractions and additional restrooms.
Councilor Becky Irwin, who is a Realtor, said the condition of the lagoon also impacts the value of nearby properties.
"People buy in that neighborhood because of the access to that beach," Irwin said of Tigertail Beach, which is adjacent to the lagoon.
As permits are acquired, Brechnitz said the next step is to bring the project to the consideration of the county's Coastal Advisory Committee.
"We have to make sure the county lives up to its responsibility," Brechnitz said.
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