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Big Carlos Pass dredging begins

By Staff | Jun 7, 2017

Sand spews from the dredging equipment Thursday as the project begins.

The southern tip of Estero Island has a mysterious vessel floating offshore: a long rig with strange equipment.

The West Coast Inland Navigational District began the dredging of Big Carlos Pass on Thursday.

WCIND is removing approximately 60,000 square feet of sand from Big Carlos Pass to create a 10-foot deep channel connecting the Back Back to the Gulf.

“At its heart, it’s a navigation project,” said Justin McBride, WCIND executive director.

The former channel followed the natural flow of water south. The new one will allow larger watercraft to navigate out of and into the bay from the southern end of Fort Myers Beach.

This is the first time Big Carlos has been dredged. McBride said the way the channel is designed, he doesn’t anticipate its dredging to become a 3-year cyclical project like other passes.

“Hopefully the channel will be stable so we won’t have to do it on a regular basis,” he said.

Coastal Dredging Company, Inc., the firm contracted to do the dredging, is pulling sand from the pass and placing it on the beach roughly between 7148 Estero Blvd.and 7630 Estero Blvd.

“We’re lucky that the material is beach-compatible,” McBride said.

The new sand doesn’t get dumped on top of the old sand; rather, it’s placed closer to the waterline to extend the beach out.

“We’re creating new beach, not covering old beach,” McBride said. “We try to put in the most beneficial area. There’s a science to it.”

The sand has to be placed at the correct slope so that sea turtles can easily climb ashore to test and cannot be placed atop bird nesting areas. McBride said WCIND worked with different environmental groups to ensure the renourishment wouldn’t negatively impact any wildlife.

The Big Carlos project should take about 30 days.

When Matanzas Pass was dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers last summer and the fill placed on the beach, the dead organisms unearthed from the channel gave the air a stinky smell for several days. McBride said there’s a chance there could be some foul smell when Big Pass’s dredge material is put on the beach, but that it will most likely be less smelly than last summer and should abate once the sand dries out.

WCIND rolled the Big Carlos Pass project together with dredging New Pass between Lovers Key and Bonita Springs. Once the contractor finishes Big Pass, it will move on to New Pass, McBride said.

“We saved a significant amount of mobilization costs by doing them together,” he said.

The New Pass project will remove about the same amount of sand and take about 30 days, too. New Pass’s dredge material will be placed on Big Hickory Island, a cost-share between WCIND and Pelican Landing, who told WCIND it was in need of more sand for its public-access beach, McBride said.

In total the two projects cost $2.2 million, funded by WCIND through its multi-county special taxing district ad valorem revenue.

This dredging project has been years coming: Al Durett, owner of Fish Tale Marina, launched the effort with Joanne Semmer of the Ostego Bay Foundation, more than two years ago in an effort to make the pass safer for boaters.

“During winter, tides are extra low and the pass is almost unusable,” said Durett of the pass in a previous Observer story. “It’s dangerous.”

The Big Carlos project got its federal permit in September, but WCIND held off the start date until New Pass also got the okay.

“It’s finally happening,” said Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, also a member of the WCIND board.

Kiker said the project has a 10-year maintenance dredge agreement, meaning if the new canal needs to be cleaned out in the next 10 years WCIND does not have to seek a new federal permit to do the work.

“I’ve been through that pass so many times on a boat. Now it will be a straight shot out to the Gulf,” Kiker said. “It will be great.”