More Delays For Big Carlos Pass
After two years at a standstill, Fort
Myers Beach residents may be wondering why there has been little
movement on the Big Carlos Pass dredging project. Though the Board of
County Commissioners approved the dredging in February, the group has
developed a plan for the project that will cause significant delays –
and not everyone is happy about it.
Al Durrett is one of those people.
Owner of Fish-Tale Marina on Fort Myers Beach, Durrett is outspoken
about his frustration with the project’s progress.
"I just want to scream at the county
government,” he said.
Durrett, who has spearheaded the Big
Carlos project and been a voice for the issue, said his
dissatisfaction lies in the fact that the county has decided to
develop a brand new permit for the dredging, instead of just adding
it to an existing permit – a permit that will soon allow dredging
just a few yards away from Big Carlos.
"They are trying to get started but
what they’re doing is making us redo the whole permit process, when
they already have a permit issued that we could just change,” he
To quickly summarize the project for
those who are unfamiliar with it: the desire to dredge Big Carlos
Pass is one that has been vocalized repeatedly over the last couple
of years by residents and business owners. Currently, the depth of
the pass is extremely limiting to boats that draw more than four feet
of water. Very few vessels can traverse the waterway safely
(especially at low tide), and thus businesses like marinas, hotels
and restaurants are avoided. The lack of a safe passageway for large
boats through Big Carlos Pass causes economic harm to businesses on
the south end of the island. The project would dig out sand from the
pass and increase depth, allowing boats of varying sizes to utilize
the waterway and visit parts of the island they were unable to
Two years ago, Durrett began to work
on the Big Carlos Pass project, urging beach residents and business
owners to get involved. He called a stakeholders meeting, and
follow-up meetings, at times drawing more than 100 people. His
intention was to have this issue brought to the forefront for the
But most of Lee County has ignored
him, he said.
"For some reason, Steve Boutelle of
Lee County has been against talking to anybody from our stakeholders
meeting,” he said, adding that project manager Pam Keyes has been
virtually unreachable and unhelpful.
Our attempts to contact the project
manager directly for this article resulted only in a response from
Lee County’s Communication Director Betsy Clayton.
"In mid- to late-March, County staff
met with Chuck Listowski, West Coast Inland Navigation District
Director, and began coordinating efforts to obtain a bath survey of
Big Carlos Pass.” Clayton wrote in an email."This
information will assist in scoping the project and is necessary for
permit applications. Chuck has obtained the services of AIM
Engineering and Survey. They should begin field work within the
next two weeks and have results for our consideration within 4-5
weeks after they mobilize. This information will also assist
Lee County defining the appropriate area for soil sampling and
testing to determine the quality of dredge material and eventual
Durrett has found support from
District 3 Commissioner and Chair of the Board of County
Commissioners Larry Kiker. "When Larry Kiker got to be in charge of
this area for county commissioners,” Durrett explained, "he vowed
to help us, and he has.”
Commissioner Kiker got involved with
the project about three months ago. He said the project is an
extensive one that requires much back-and-forth between the
stakeholders, who must detail their needs, and the county, which has
to approve the project’s cost, which is "in the millions.”
As for the permitting, Kiker said
there is reasoning behind applying for a brand new one. The permit
would last 15 years.
"We’re trying to set it up so that
we can do maintenance, so that we don’t have to go through this
whole process again,” he said. "That’s something that hasn’t
been done before – where you do long-term permitting for beach
But Durrett favors amending the
existing permit. This permit already allows for the transfer of sand
from two designated areas right next to the pass to Lovers Key, to
replenish that beach.
If the permit were amended to include
Big Carlos, dredging in the pass could not only fix its depth issue,
but also help complete the beach renourishment project of Lovers Key
(should sand from the pass be tested and approved for the beach). And
it would do this at a faster rate and cheaper price tag, he said.
"We could not understand as
stakeholders why our government would want to go through the process
of redoing a whole new permit – all the cost involved, the dollars,
the time invested – when all they had to do was get a change on the
permit that was issued and clear the pass out so that boating could
be done here,” he said.
And the dredging would not go against
what Mother Nature intended, Durrett said. Big Carlos was originally
deep enough for large boats – which explains why there is a
drawbridge at the pass. Over the years the sand shifted and created
shoals in the waterway, rendering it useless to large boats and also
hurting the quality of the water.
Kiker agreed that water quality was an
"We’ve got to make sure we can get
the water to flow properly in and out of there to filtrate the back
bay,” he said.
Fort Myers Beach needs this dredging,
Durrett said. The livelihood of the beach and its businesses depends
"The economy at the south end of
Fort Myers Beach is dedicated to boating,” he said, later adding,
"What will happen, is if this pass is allowed to fill in, the value
of real estate here on Fort Myers Beach, the south end of it, will go
down the tubes. People that come down here to buy a house and have a
boat behind their house – that’s the reason they move to
But without any progress on the
project, he said, those property values will most certainly decrease,
and people will be turned off to the area.
"It’s a shame that the county is
making the taxpayer pay a bigger bill for something that could be
done now. The same sand can most likely be used on Lovers Key as the
sand that’s a few yards away. So that’s our problem. And I’ve
been a pain in the butt of Lee County for the past two years but I
don’t care,” he said, later adding, "It’s two years of