Can You Dig It
Work continues on the Big Carlos Pass and New Pass dredging projects, though its emphasis is about to change.
“The Marine Contracting Group completed the mechanical dredging of New Pass on Tuesday, May 2,” relates Justin McBride, executive director of the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) that is in charge of the work. “The hydraulic part is now beginning to mobilize to the site (Big Carlos Pass). Coastal Dredging Company, Inc., has all its pipe and equipment on a barge that left New Orleans a few days ago, is now off the coast of Mississippi, and should be at Big Carlos Pass early next week.”
Once they arrive, Coastal Dredging will assemble their pipe, then begin dredging around May 15. “It will take a maximum of 30 days to complete Big Carlos Pass,” Justine says, “then they will loop down to New Pass, where it should take another month, meaning everything should be complete by mid-July. If their equipment runs smoothly, however, it may not take that long, unless there is a big storm or hurricane.”
Justin explains that mechanical and hydraulic work were each 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 combined project – is inappropriate for renourishment so they must take that away separately; the remainder will restore beaches at Lovers Key and Fort Myers Beach.
“The difference between the two is with mechanical work, they backhoe down, scoop out the material, and put it on the barge,” offers Justin. “The hydraulic portion uses a device called a cutter head that looks like a Weapon of Mass Destruction, but is really a state-of-the-art machine that tells you how deep you are, to the inch, and exactly where they are digging, to meet the contract’s exact specifications. It is like a big rototill that spins around and loosens up the material so that it can suck it up like a large vacuum cleaner to send it down the big long pipe to deposit sand onto the beach.”
Marine Contracting won the bid for the mechanical aspect of New Pass for $289,000, while Coastal Dredging received the New Pass and Big Carlos Pass hydraulic work for $2.2 million. WCIND is happy with the prices, as they budgeted $2.5 million, while the combined total came in at under $2.3 million.
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 not that much when you consider the size of the channels,” 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 adds to Fort Myers Beach, much of which the State defines as a critically-eroded zone.”
Too Narrow, Too Shallow, Too Dangerous
Cranes, barges, and underwater vacuums will remove sediment, sand and salt that over decades drifted into the channels, making them too shallow for large and even some recreational boats. Work on Big Carlos Pass is between Estero and Black Islands, while New Pass separates Lovers Key and Big Hickory Island. “These blockages are simply bad for navigation,” Justin says. “This is, at heart, a safety issue; the channels are too narrow, too shallow and too dangerous.”
Water that originally formed the chan
nels followed the flow that traditionally takes it out to the pass, but since sand always shifts, Lee County constantly had to remark it, to show the best route. “We will make a straight-line connection through Big Carlos,” Justin comments, “as opposed to the current S-shape that is troublesome for large vessels. We refer to this as ‘Advance Maintenance Dredging.’ This 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 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.
“People will start to see equipment within the week,” concludes Justin, “so we ask you to give the contactor a wide berth so they can do their job and get done in a timely manner. Remember they work 24/7 so stay well away from their safety buoys and night lights, so we can all enjoy the passes again for the summer boating season.”