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Chiquita Lock removal gets FDEP nod
November 8, 2018

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The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued a Notice of Intent to issue a permit for the removal of the Chiquita Lock.

The structure was built during the city's initial growth to protect the outer waters in Charlotte Harbor, but is now considered by city officials to have outlived its usefulness.

Connie Barron, interim assistant city manager, said the city would have to go through the process, including administrative hearings, before any timeline for the removal could begin. She said she expects appeals from parties that object to the removal, which would delay the process.

"It's good news. We've been advancing the argument that the lock is no longer necessary for several years," Barron said. "That we've reached this point is good news especially for those who live behind the lock."

The city applied on Oct. 31, 2016, to the DEP for a permit to remove the lock and associated uplands, and install a 165-linear foot seawall along the north end of the South Spreader.

The lock is located off of Cape Harbour Drive in Cape Harbour. It predates the development.

The Chiquita Lock began operations in 1984 to serve as a water distribution system for intercepting and releasing waters from the development.

The DEP required that boat lifts or boat locks be installed between the Cape Coral waterways and waterways such as Charlotte Harbor.

Since then, the city has implemented programs to improve water quality within the city and receiving waters, according to the notice.

The city has installed public sewers, potable water and re-use irrigation water and banned the use of fertilizer during rainy season. It installed a deep injection well at the Southwest Reverse Osmosis Potable Water Treatment plant, created a stormwater utility to manage, maintain, and improved the stormwater retention and treatment systems, officials said.

"At the time they believed there could be leaching from septic tanks, runoff from pesticides that flow into the waters then into the brackish waters to the south," Barron said. "The city has done many things that have mitigated the environmental impacts to the water."

Also, several breaches in the South Spreader Waterway developed, with fixes deemed unsuccessful. Additionally, boat traffic there has increased with the increase in population.

The city has worked for years on removing the lock, submitting an application in July 2015 to have the lock dismantled.

Opponents allege the lock removal would have a devastating effect on the waters outside the lock area.

An appeal is pending.

"This is another brazen refusal to comply with a 40 year+ obligation by Cape Coral to maintain detention dams for its canals on the east (the Chiquita Lock) and the west (the Ceitus Boat Lift Barrier)," said Mike Hannon, a Matlacha resident and member of the Matlacha Civic Association via email. "The FL DEP has worked hand in glove with Cape Coral since 2007 to enable this shortcut for boater access in disregard of the damage caused by the uncontrolled stream of pollutants. This path is an expedient for Cape Coral boaters at the cost of the environment. The solution is simple: high speed boat locks. Cape Coral's 'reasonable assurances' that there will be no damage are an unblinking renunciation of reality and history."

The challenge goes hand-in-hand with an earlier one, he said.

"Our challenge to removal of the Chiquita Boat Lock is consistent with our plan to sue Cape Coral under the Clean Water Act for removal of the Ceitus Boat Lift Barrier. This proposed removal has accelerated our response. I am actually in touch with the original designers of the Cape Coral detention system, who are shocked at this conduct. What was intended in the 60s and 70s to be an early version of a storm water management system for the Cape Coral canals has now become an open sewer. Cape Coral does not appear to care whether their water is clean, so long as it is wet and floats a boat," Hannon said in a call-to-action broadcast email.

"Florida voters want clean water over expedience and municipal growth. It is now the 11th hour for both political and legal action against Cape Coral. We must make the current Cape Coral City Council take responsibility for this decision," he wrote, urging islanders to contract Cape Coral City Council members.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comment comment from Matlacha resident Mike Hannon

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