Lee County's decision to allocate $150,000 for additional water quality monitoring and a whopping $350,000 in case officials there see the need for lawsuit has some Cape Coral officials steaming.
And rightfully so.
While we understand the county's position that a barrier be reinstalled in the North Spreader, it's a colossal waste of tax dollars for one local government to use tax dollars to sue another - or even prepare to do so.
Especially in light of the fact that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has rejected the city's forced application to replace the Ceitus barrier/boat lift with another pricey device the state has found won't aid water quality one whit.
Some history, previously shared when the county first rattled the saber of litigation back in May of 2011:
After the old barrier was breached by a washout that could not be repaired, the state allowed Cape Coral to remove the structure at the south end of the 7-mile-long "spreader" canal designed to disburse and filter water flowing from the Cape. There was a caveat - the city was required to develop a plan that would result in a "net ecosystem benefit" to Matlacha Pass, Charlotte Harbor and their related water estuaries.
In an action that foreshadowed the legal battle the Lee County Board of County Commissioners may now be positioning to fight, 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.
They are still insistent, despite continued state rejection of barrier replacement.
The sad part, from both a cost and an environmental perspective, is that the FDEP has found that replacement of the barrier actually would have a NEGATIVE effect on fish and wildlife, public health and safety, and could cause harmful erosion.
Let us again 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," stated District Director John Igleheart in the rejection letter to the city dated May 11, 2011.
We're not sure how our county commissioners - all of whom voted to set $500,000 aside - can miss the import of both the statement and its impact: That upon studying the data and information collected last go-around, and after considering the input of the various stakeholders the state believes another structure would lead to another blowout and more breaches through the mangroves everyone wants to protect.
We have a couple of suggestions.
One, we are gratified that the Cape Coral City Council has modified the language in a resolution that originally would have done little more than escalate a bad situation. The city and county previously agreed the two entities would give themselves 180 days to come to an agreement on projects to protect the estuaries in question.
Those talks should continue - and county officials should open their minds to solutions that were two years in the making.
Two, we're also gratified that despite the allocation for legal preparation, some on the county commission say they really don't plan to sue anybody.
Sounds good to us.
A costly legal battle involving the very state agency that is charged with environmental protection is likely to be as effective as taking those dollars and tossing them into the spreader in hope they would reconstitute themselves into a filtration system.
Take the $500,000 and allocate it toward net ecosystem benefit programs.
Seems to us that would be win-win, for taxpayers and environmentalists alike.
- Breeze editorial