Hurricane Irma, A Dredging Positive

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Channeling Irma!

When Hurricane Irma struck Southwest Florida on September 10, she did not devastate the region as many thought, but did cause millions of Floridians to lose power, uprooted acres of landscaping, left brown water off our shores, and led to general disarray for several weeks. In all her madness, however, Irma did leave one positive impact.

“The dredging of Big Carlos Pass is complete and, believe it or not, we have the hurricane to thank for finishing it for us,” related Justin McBride, executive director of the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) that is in charge of the work. “When it was apparent Irma was going to come close, the contractor removed all their equipment, with still roughly 12,200 cubic yards left to dredge in the channel. The incoming storm sucked a lot of water out of that area, and that suction pulled the remaining material from the pass, so when the contactor returned, we received a very pleasant surprise!”

Justin said that “if you think about it, this makes complete sense, as the channel connects two deep areas, and the water flow did exactly what you would expect it to do – ground out a path between the points of least resistance. Big Carlos Pass is now performing really well, so we are happy with the result. Who would have ever thought, however, when we began this in May, that a huge hurricane would be a major benefit, but in this instance, it was!”

Irma was just the latest twist & turn in dredging projects at Big Carlos Pass and New Pass. Early on, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection determined that roughly 5% of the dredging material was inappropriate for beach renourishment, meaning it would require both mechanical and hydraulic work. Crews then discovered that the remainder of the dredging was chockful of seashells that caused a significant delay. Pink tide and unusually heavy summer thunderstorms shut down the operation for safety reasons several times.

The contractor, Coastal Dredging Company, brought in extra manpower and equipment to complete the projects as fast as they could. “Fortunately,” explains Justin, “we are not in season, so time was on our side. Now Coastal Dredging has moved on to New Pass, and that is going extremely well so far, so we now seem to be moving quick and humming right along.”

Great Channels At a Fair Price

The delays, however, did cause WCIND to renegotiate with Coastal Dredging, adding $475,000 to their agreement. “The Big Carlos Pass material was not what we thought from the initial estimate, due primarily to the seashells, meaning it took longer to do the work, so we adjusted the price. The $475,000 is a worst-case scenario, as we do not anticipate spending that entire amount. The work is taking longer than we thought to complete, but we feel when the public uses the end product, we will have great channels at a fair price to everyone.”

Marine Contracting Group of Punta Gorda won the mechanical aspect of New Pass for $289,000, while Coastal Dredging of Louisiana received the New Pass and Big Carlos Pass hydraulic work for $2.1 million. The additional $475,000 brings that up to roughly $2.8 million. WCIND originally budgeted $2.5 million, with Lee County adding an additional $1 million, making the amount available $3.5 million if necessary. With Lee County part of the agreement, Pelican Landing will receive renourishment for its Big Hickory Island public beach.

Justin estimates the new completion date to be within four weeks, “so sometime around Thanksgiving, meaning we will be done in time for tourism season, and that is of paramount importance. Other than the delay, the project appears to have no adverse impacts on Fort Myers Beach, and restored an important component of its beach habitat. Now that we are in the final month or so, with equipment at New Pass, we want to remind the public one last time to give the construction crew a wide berth so they can do their job as quick as possible and be done.”

Dredging will remove an estimated 66,000 cubic yards of sand and shell debris from New Pass, with an additional 64,000 cubic yards from Big Carlos, to replenish barrier island beaches that constantly erode. New Pass sand goes to Lovers Key and Big Hickory Island, while Big Carlos added to Fort Myers Beach, much of which the State defines as a critically-eroded zone.

WCIND is a multi-county special taxing authority that covers over one million residents in Charlotte, Lee, Manatee, and Sarasota Counties. Its members collaborate closely, to best benefit from available resources afforded by this regional approach. WCIND plays a pivotal role in waterway projects that promote safe navigation while supporting boating, fishing and beach projects. For Big Carlos and New Pass dredging updates see www.wcind.net.

 

Gary Mooney