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Buying time

March 9, 2013
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council bought some time Monday, opting to spend up to $200,000 to repair the aging Chiquita Lock, contingent on whether the state will allow the city to tap into a trust fund earmarked for such projects.

The elected board also agreed to budget $50,000 for a study to see if the structure can be removed at a later date.

The vote makes sense to us, providing the funding is approved.

According to staff, the repairs will add another half dozen years to the life of the lock, currently required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as a means to mitigate possible pollutants from entering state waters.

The study will be another step in the direction the city wants to go - which is to remove the lock rather than replace it with a parallel structure at a cost estimated at $13 million.

As with the issue with the North Spreader, the studies, discussions and debate concerning the South Spreader are nothing new; the city has environmental data dating back a dozen years.

It looked like the city and the state were making some headway back in 2011 when then-councilman Pete Brandt announced the Cape and the FDEP had found "common ground on future plans for the Chiquita Lock" in the southwest Cape. At that time, the city and FDEP officials discussed water sampling results from both sides of the structure and the city agreed to install additional monitoring stations, according to Mr. Brandt, who was the city's liaison on both the North and South Spreader projects.

Short term, the goal was to establish that water quality was good enough to allow the lock to be open to boat traffic from the river during inflowing tides.

Long term, the city said it wanted to explore the possibility of removing the structure, hence the water quality studies to make sure the waters behind the lock could meet state standards because if the lock is removed, the South Spreader will then fall under state environmental control.

The 2011 study was followed by another in April of last year when the city began testing the impact of high tide flows on canal levels around the lock. The city had received a permit modification from the FDEP to make operational changes that allowed both gates to be open during certain high tides.

Meanwhile, city officials said Monday despite what appears to be progress - or at least study after study - removal of the lock, if it happens at all, remains at least a decade away.

So we agree: Repair the structure if the money is there and continue with the environmental study requirements.

Eventually, it's going to be removal or replacement.

Let's make sure the city is positioned to push the best choice forward.

- Breeze editorial



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