The West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) recently accepted bids for Big Carlos and New Pass dredging from two companies, preparing the way for the first-ever such work on the iconic Big Carlos Pass.
“We were to open bids on January 6 but firms requested an extra week due to the complexity of the project,” explains Justin McBride, WCIND executive director in charge of the work. “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.”
Justin explains mechanical and hydraulic bids were both necessary because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection determined that roughly 6,000 cubic yards of the New Pass dredging material – or about 5% of the 130,000 total cubic yards – is inappropriate for renourishment so they must take that away separately; the remainder will restore the beaches at Lovers Key as well as on Fort Myers Beach.
“While we have no previous experience with Coastal Dredging, WCIND is familiar with several of its principals so we anticipate few issues,” Justin says. “We have a good relationship with the Marine Contracting Group, including a current Charlotte Harbor project.” WCIND is happy with the bid results as they budgeted $2.5 million, with the combined total at $2.3 million. “We have yet to determine a starting date for the hydraulic work but expect that to start soon; Marine Contracting will initiate the mechanical for New Pass in early February,” he adds.
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. “That is really not that much when you consider the size of the channel,” explains Justin, “or you compare it with the Lovers Key renourishment from several years back that accounted for over 300,000 cubic yards. This 130,000 will replenish barrier island beaches that constantly erode. New Pass sand goes to Lovers Key, while Big Carlos will add to Fort Myers Beach, much of which the State defines as being in the critically-eroded zone.”
Cranes, barges, and underwater vacuums will remove sediment, sand, and salt that over decades drifted into the channel, making it too shallow for large and even some recreational boats. Work on Big Carlos Pass is between Estero and Blacks Islands, while New Pass separates Lovers Key and Big Hickory Island. “These blockages are simply bad for navigation,” Justin offers. “This is the first time in decades there will be dredging for New Pass and to our knowledge the initial one for Big Carlos Pass. This is at heart a safety issue; the channel is too narrow, too shallow and too dangerous.”
Justin relates that “this is a coastal system and, as such, the beach changes every day, meaning the passes do as well. To boaters, however, it is essential to be able to pass through the sandbars. Lee County did a great job for a long time to keep the channel open but now boats have great difficulty moving through it. Water that originally formed the channel followed the flow that traditionally takes it out to the pass, but since the sand always shifts, the County constantly had to remark it to show the best route. We will make a straight-line connection through Big Carlos, as opposed to the current S-shape route that is especially troublesome for large vessels. We refer to this as ‘Advance Maintenance Dredging.’”
Advance Maintenance Dredging allows crews to remove more than necessary because some will settle, so when the channel is done there is still enough room, and it can go longer before future maintenance.
WCIND is a multi-county special taxing authority, like a mosquito control district, that covers over one million residents in Charlotte, Lee, Manatee, and Sarasota Counties. These member agencies collaborate closely, to best benefit from the available resources afforded by this regional approach.
The Florida Legislature established the WCIND in 1947 to compliment the United States Army Corps of Engineers with planning, construction, and maintenance of the 152-mile, 100-foot-wide, 9-foot-deep Gulf Intercoastal Waterway (GICW) between the Anclote and Caloosahatchee Rivers. Over the decades its responsibilities expanded to navigation projects, waterway research, erosion studies, environmental stewardship and restoration, inlet management, boating safety, abandoned vessel removal, and the posting of channel markers and manatee protection speed enforcement zones, as well as cruising, sailing, fishing, and eco-exploring activities.
WCIND plays a pivotal role in waterway projects that promote safe navigation from the Gulf of Mexico through the GICW, while supporting boating, fishing, and beach-oriented projects. It helps county and local governments maintain and enhance public navigation channels and inlets, boating access facilities, waterfronts, parks, and pier and similar structures. For Big Carlos and New Pass dredging updates see www.wcind.net.