One of Southwest Florida’s most popular beach activities is to go shelling along our beautiful shores, but these natural treasures are wreaking havoc with an area dredging project, causing a significant delay. “Yes, this is taking much longer than we anticipated, because the material we are dredging up is full of seashells,” relates Justin McBride, executive director of the West Coast Inland Navigation District (WCIND) that is in charge of the work, with a hearty laugh, as crews continue on the Big Carlos Pass and New Pass dredging jobs. “Rather than approaching our original completion date for the full contract at the end of July, they are still working in Big Carlos Pass and are only about one-third done.”
The delay, however, is not solely due to the amount of seashells. “We ran into some pink tide,” Justin explains, “and the almost-daily afternoon thunderstorms cause the crews to shut down for safety reasons. We are taking extra core samples to get a better look at the material, and the contractor, Coastal Dredging Company, brought in extra manpower and equipment to complete the projects as fast as they can; all things considered, we are very happy with the progress. Fortunately, we are not in season, so time is on our side, and we are convinced the contractor is putting forth the best possible effort and doing as much work as they can; if they were not, then we would have an issue.”
Per its contact, the contractor can request more time as well as additional funds. “At this point, we granted them added time,” Justin says, “but they have yet to ask for more funds. Should they, we will evaluate their proposal, and can authorize more if we think it is appropriate. We certainly appreciate that the extra equipment and manpower is eating into their profit, and we want to treat them fairly. We actually meet with them this week, to iron out details and hopefully set a new estimated date of completion.”
Bigger & Better Beaches
The Marine Contracting Group completed the mechanical dredging of New Pass on Tuesday, May 2, while Coastal Dredging Company began their segment around May 15. 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 that was taken away separately; the remainder will restore beaches at Lovers Key and Fort Myers Beach.
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. 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. Marine Contracting won the bid for mechanical dredging 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.
Cranes, barges and underwater vacuums will remove sediment and sand that over decades drifted into the channels, making them too shallow for large boats 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.”
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.
Justin implores everyone to “please stay away from the discharge point, as we know people want to get at that bounty of seashells, but this is an active construction area, and there are many safety reasons as to why you cannot come in there. The seashells are not going to run away or go anywhere, so when we are done, you can shell to your heart’s content, but please respect the construction zone for your own good. We already had to call the sheriff at least once for trespassing, and this is a felony, but it is not about the crime but your protection. Observe the marked-off areas and give the crews their space, as the sooner they get done, the sooner you can safely shell!”