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Issue 624

01/24/2013 at 3:54pm

Airial View of Big Carlos PassMeeting Set for Those Concerned
About Big Carlos Pass

For years, boaters have used Big Carlos Pass as a natural deepwater channel from Estero Bay into the Gulf of Mexico. Going back to the time of the Spaniards, stories have been written of galleons sailing into safe harbor through that pass– even Calico Jack Rackham escaped certain death through that waterway when he, Anne Bonny and their ill-fated crew hid from Spanish soldiers in the back bay in 1712. Earlier in the last century, shrimp boats regularly used the pass to head out on their forays into the Gulf and when the bridge was built from the south end of Fort Myers Beach to Lover's Key a drawbridge was added so that big boats could go through. For the last three years, however, the pass has been filling in with sand, and a local citizens' group is concerned that – should it become impassable – not only will boaters be affected, the very health of Estero Bay will be in jeopardy.

"At low tide, you can't get a 3' draft boat in the channel and it's been that way for a long time,” said Fish-Tale Marina owner Al Durrett, Board member of the Island Board of Trade (IBOT) – a group composed of citizens and business owners from both San Carlos and Estero Islands. "This effects restaurants, housing, hotels and – most importantly – the health of Estero Bay itself as it is how the bay is flushed out regularly.”

Durrett explained that four waterways feed the back bay freshwater from the center of the state – Hendry and Mullock Creeks and the Estero and Imperial Rivers – and that water is flushed through the estuary and out through Big Carlos Pass.

"If it doesn't flush properly, the salinity gets too high and it would become like a fish tank with the filter turned off,” he said. "It's not to that point yet, but given total neglect that's what it could become.”

IBOT board member and Ostego Bay Foundation Director Joanne Semmer said that the fact that the pass has never been dredged before makes permitting difficult.

"We are trying to get something done by working with the West Coast Inland Navigational District, the cities of Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs and private funding because it will take less time than going through the Army Corps of Engineers,” she said. "To that end, Al and Kathy Durrett and I got together last April and held a stakeholders meeting for IBOT. Residents and members of Town Council were there and we took a trip out into the pass so they could see how it's filling in.”

The group held another meeting a few weeks later in Bonita Springs. Steve Boutelle of Lee County Natural Resources and then-District 3 representative on the county commission Ray Judah were invited but could not attend.

"I have a friend - a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who is commissioned by NOAA to check water depths in Big Carlos Pass for the purpose of making navigational charts, and he has documented that the water is around three and a half feet deep in the pass at Mean Low Tide, with several 'bumps' of two feet or less,” said Durrett. "This problem affects any community with access to Estero Bay. We have started a letter writing campaign to make sure the county is aware of it.”

Al explained that IBOT was formed to help oversee coastal issues in south Lee because the members saw needs that weren't being addressed.

"I bought Fish Tale Marina in 1985, and I estimate that channel was at least 12-15 feet deep and went straight out,” he said. "Now you have to veer pretty far south and oftentimes the markers aren't correct. This will severely effect the economy of our area if people can't bring their boats out of the bay in a safe manner.”

We spoke with the South District Director of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – John Iglehart – who told us that the project seemed to 'lose steam' after the two meetings last year but they are willing to get the project going again.

"Our Beaches and Coastal Systems are aware of the problem,” he said. "We are looking at it from several different standpoints, but right now it kind of seems like the issue has lost some momentum. If Joanne is willing to start the meetings again, we'd be willing to help get it going.”

Semmer and Durrett are planning just that - another meeting for concerned citizens has been set for February 14th at 9am at Fish Tale's Ships Store.

"Our original plan was to call this problem to the attention of the community, ask the Town to get involved and for them to get the county involved,” Durrett told us. "We plan to have another meeting on Valentine's Day called 'Love Your Bay', where we want folks to come and bring their thoughts and ideas for enhancing the passage of Big Carlos Pass and Estero Bay.”

Semmer explained that the group will be looking for input regarding where to put a new channel, how wide it should be and how deep.

"If we have to go through the Army Corps for permitting, then that will be part if the information we need to submit,” she said. "We are also planning an evening workshop where the information gathered at the meeting will be presented.”

Anyone interested in this issue is encouraged to both come to the meeting on the 14th and to write to the following local representatives with their concerns: Commissioner Larry Kiker, Commissioner Tammy Hall and Commissioner Frank Mann - P.O. Box 398, Ft. Myers, FL, 33902-0398; Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve, 700-1 Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Myers Beach, FL, 33931; DEP- South District, attn. John Iglehart, 2295 Victoria Avenue Suite 364, Ft. Myers FL, 33902-2549 and the West Coast Inland Navigational District, attn. Chuck Listkowski, 200 E. Miami Avenue, Venice, FL, 34285.

Keri Hendry Weeg