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Cape eyes removing Chiquita lock

By Don Ruane
Originally posted on May 09, 2007

A proposed lock on a busy Cape Coral canal may be abandoned because its cost jumped $12 million in four years.

The proposed lock on the south spreader waterway may cost about $15 million, up from $3 million when the city started planning for its construction in 2003.

So instead of building an expensive parallel lock to the Chiquita lock, city officials are preparing to drop the project and ask the state for permission to remove the existing lock.

Boaters with river access from the city’s southwest area must pass through the lock.
About 40 boats use the lock on a daily basis and about 100 per day on weekends, according to Karl Brauer of the Public Works Department.

Long lines often form while boaters wait their turn. A second lock would allow more and larger boats to pass through the barrier.

The proposed lock will be able to handle 60 boats per hour compared with 20 with the existing lock.

Removing the lock would eliminate the delays, too, but it also would allow the river and canal waters to mix.

Removing the lock requires state approval since the lock separates the Caloosahatchee River from canal water containing fertilizers and other contaminants from the city’s yards and streets.

“There should be some kind of compromise,” Mayor Eric Feichthaler said.

The city has improved its stormwater system and installed sewers throughout the southwest area to eliminate seepage from septic tanks, Feichthaler said.

But political influence might be needed to overcome environmental objections.

Florida’s new governor, lieutenant governor and DEP director might help, Feichthaler said. Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp is a former Cape Coral resident who represented the area in the state House.

Feichthaler said he also has enlisted the help of state Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral.

But the state isn’t the only one that could block the proposal, said Jim Sweigert, head of the Southwest Cape Coral Homeowners Association.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services also have to agree to remove the lock, Sweigert said.

The Army Corps, after consulting with Fish and Wildlife, issued a permit March 9 for the second lock. Construction could start in June and be done in August 2008.

“The homeowners would love to get the lock out,” Sweigert said. But they want the second lock if the city can’t win over the regulators.

The lock separates the Caloosahatchee River from the canal known as the south spreader waterway.

The spreader canal helps to clean runoff, contaminated water. When the water reaches a certain height, it spills over the rim and filters through mangroves for more cleansing en route to Matlacha Pass.

To get state permission to remove the lock, the city will have to prove it will meet water quality standards at buildout, said water quality program manager Gordon Romeis of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

City officials contend the canal water quality already is better than the water released into the river by the sugar industry and other interests.

Water quality testing started in 1991. Results show the canal water compares well to state standards, city environmental services director Connie Jarvis said.

“The lock as it currently exists serves no legitimate environmental purpose,” Councilman Tom Hair said.

The canal’s rim already has gaps that allow the water to escape and flow into Matlacha Pass, Feichthaler said.

“Cape Coral is being double punished here,” Councilwoman Alex LePera said. “It’s just not fair and doesn’t make any sense.”

The city signed a contract in December with PCL Civil Constructors for design work and construction management services. The estimated cost now is about $15 million.
The city set aside $4 million for the work this year and public works is asking for $12 million in 2008. The request will cover some remaining design costs, construction of the new lock and some rehabilitation planned for the existing lock, Brauer said.

City Manager Terry Stewart said he wants to discuss how to pay for the project with the council.

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