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Feb
7

Editorial 626


Missy Layfield - Editor

Love Your Bay

Anyone who has the slightest interest or knowledge of the aquatic environment of our area knows that Estero Bay serves a very important role in the health and well-being of our area and it’s inhabitants.

It is the repository of freshwater from the center of the state as Hendry and Mullock Creeks and Imperial and Estero Rivers feed freshwater into the bay. Seagrass beds provide critical habitat for fish and a food source for birds and marine mammals like manatees.

The water quality of the bay is determined by a fine balance of freshwater flowing into the bay and tidal flushing through several passes into the Gulf. One of the largest and most important of those passes is Big Carlos Pass, just south of Fort Myers Beach.

Big Carlos Pass is also the primary Gulf access route for mid and south island boaters, as well as Lover’s Key boaters. And a beautiful access it is! Above water level at least.

Below the water, the pass has been deteriorating for years and has reached a critical point.

Boats that draw more than 2 feet are now running aground at low tide in the pass that at one point offered more than 20 feet of water depth.

The bridge built over the pass in 1965, includes a drawbridge to allow large sailboats to navigate the deep-water passage. But deep water is no longer an accurate description of the pass.

Many boaters are unable to use their boats, as they can’t get them through the pass at low tide. For some large sailboats, they can’t get them through even at high tide.

This translates into a very real economic crisis for our island.

Boat access is important to all area businesses. Thousands of canal homes and docks rely upon Gulf access via Big Carlos Pass. If that pass becomes blocked, watch for property values to drop. Boaters will look to live elsewhere if they lose easy access to the Gulf. .

Surveys have shown that there are bumps or moguls scattered throughout the pass that are only 2-4 feet below the surface. They’re hard to see and even more difficult to avoid.

With the shallower pass, the flushing of Estero Bay is in danger also. The volume of water flowing in and out of the pass with the tides has to be greatly decreased, as it’s only 4 feet deep now, as opposed to 20+ feet deep.

The pass needs to be dredged. Unlike Matanzas Pass and many other passes in our area, Big Carlos has never been dredged before, so there’s no foundation of past studies and surveys on file with the countless government alphabet agencies that are involved in dredging.

To dredge Big Carlos, we’re going to have to start from scratch. We need to define the channel and specify where and how big the problem is.

Last May, the San Carlos and Estero Islands Waterfront Partnership and Board of Trade held a stakeholders meeting that attracted officials from Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Coast Guard. Representatives of boat clubs, condo associations and marinas attended. All agreed the silting in of the pass was a big problem that required dredging. At that time a representative of the DEP explained that any effort to dredge the pass would require scientific data proving the need for dredging and a definite display of community concern.

Nine months later, the DEP tells us that the project seemed to "lose steam.”

In an effort to bring the issue to the forefront, IBOT is inviting local residents to a meeting to discuss improving Big Carlos Pass and Estero Bay. If you have concerns about the shallowness of the pass, please come to the meeting and share your concern.

IBOT is hosting a "Love Your Bay” meeting on Valentine’s Day at 9am at the Ship’s Store at Fish Tale Marina.Add your voice to others calling for a usable Big Carlos Pass and a healthy Estero Bay. Let’s get this ball rolling!

IBOT has also asked that local residents share their concerns about the pass and how the shallow depth has affected them by writing to the Lee County Commissioners, the DEP and West Coast Inland Navigational District.

Have you had experiences with shallow water in Big Carlos Pass? Are you concerned about the navigability of the pass or the water quality of Estero Bay?

Write your local representatives. Write us a letter. Go to the "Love Your Bay” meeting on February 14.

It’s time to demonstrate that "definite display of community concern” that this problem needs.

Missy Layfield

Write your local representtives:

 

Chuck Listkowski, West Coast Inland Navigational District, 200 E. Miami Avenue, Venice, FL, 34285