The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has rejected the city's forced application to replace the Ceitus barrier and boat lift, bringing full circle the debate on how to best mitigate water quality issues in the estuaries that the north Cape borders.
The move comes as no surprise to anyone who actually has read the state's previous environmental position reports, which state replacement and/or relocation of the barrier at the south end of the 7-mile-long "spreader" canal designed to disburse and filter water flowing into the estuaries would not address the underlying problems with the system.
After the old barrier was breached by an unrepairable washout, the state allowed Cape Coral to remove the structure provided the city could develop a plan that would result in a "net ecosystem benefit" to Matlacha Pass, Charlotte Harbor and their related water estuaries. The county and various environmental groups immediately challenged the decision, demanding that Cape Coral replace the barrier.
The state OK'd discussion on the issue, giving the city, Lee and Charlotte counties, and various environmental organizations a year to develop a North Spreader Ecosystem Management Agreement.
It took two years to hammer out that pact, which ultimately came to no avail: Cape Coral came in on the minority side which favored the mitigation plan; Lee County and the environmental factions held firm on barrier replacement, in effect forcing the city to tender the application doomed from the get-go.
And they are still insistent, despite another state rejection of barrier replacement.
Lee County and at least one of the environmental participants are threatening an administrative challenge of the FDEP's latest decision although that decision states quite plainly yet again that replacing the structure would have a negative effect on fish and wildlife, public health and safety, and could cause harmful erosion.
Let us quote the FDEP:
"After reviewing the application... the Department has determined that this project is not clearly in the public interest and will result in adverse secondary impacts," states District Director John Igleheart in the rejection letter to the city dated May 11.
We urge our county representatives to consider this state position very carefully.
The findings are not new.
They are consistent with historical documentation of the degeneration of the spreader system.
And they are based on sound science that says replacement of the barrier will not address the other 12 identified breaches in the system, nor will reinstallation address, in the long-term, the erosion issues that threaten the mangrove filtration system, a primary concern of the FDEP.
An administrative challenge would be a waste of tax dollars and staff time, all on an effort experts say would not benefit the environment one whit, even if it is successful and a new barrier is installed.
Instead, we suggest the county get behind the plan to deliver that "net ecosystem benefit," already approved by the city. With its various requirements, including benchmarks for the installation of sanitary sewers, it's no feel-good gimme but a viable solution offering real, long-term protections.
It's also the only option likely to receive the state approvals necessary to actually begin efforts to improve and protect water quality, the common goal somehow lost in all the pro-barrier/no-barrier posturing.
It's time for the groups to pull together instead of hoping for an all-or-nothing win.
And nothing is what we have now - no agreed-upon plan, no improvement, no movement as the days, the months and, yes, the years continue to pass.
How much longer should we allow this issue to drag on in quest for some so-called environmental victory the state says would be no victory at all?