Before the dredging work to open Blind Pass was completed in the summer of 2009, the waters east of the temporary wall erected at the site — separating the Gulf of Mexico from connecting with Roosevelt Channel — were brown and stagnant.
But shortly after the pass opened, clear, blue gulf waters began rushing into the channel — and as a result, island bayous and Pine Island Sound — evidence that the environmental benefit of moving tens of thousands of cubic yards of sand was well worth the $2.5 million cost of the project, conducted by the Lee County Division of Natural Resources. (The Captiva Erosion Prevention District shouldered approximately $1.3 of the total cost).
The main goals of the Blind Pass Ecosystem Restoration Project were to provide a stable pass opening, increase water circulation in Clam Bayou and Dinkins Bayou, improve the habitat for mangroves, seagrasses, shorebirds and fisheries and to enhance recreational opportunities in and around the pass.
As a result of the project, the channel is flush with snook. Various shorebirds have returned to the area. Sea grasses are thriving and, as a result, manatees are returning here to graze.
And for most of the past 18 months since the pass opened, all signs pointed towards "mission accomplished."
However, in late December, islanders began noticing that the pass was beginning to fill in again.
Last week, Captiva Erosion Prevention District Senior Administrator Kathy Rooker explained that CEPD board members — frustrated with the county’s lack of immediate action — have begun collecting photographs documenting the rapid infill of the pass and offering suggestions to the Blind Pass restoration project manager, Robert Neal. The CEPD has also asked their engineer, Steve Keehn of Coastal Planning and Engineering, to keep a close eye on the pass, stay in contact with county officials and to develop a plan to better maintain the pass.
Thus far, according to Rooker, county officials have been unresponsive to the CEPD's inquiries and call for action.
Neal maintains that further study of the pass, particularly in regards to how and why sediment is depositing where it is, is an essential factor in remedying the sudden infill.
“When we opened the pass, we constructed something unnatural," Neal said last week, after being contacted regarding the sudden infill issue. "We’re messing with Mother Nature on many different levels. Some people said it wouldn’t last a week, some said a month, but we’re now at 18 months. People are losing hope, but it’s not closed yet."
We thought that Neal, who originally estimated that maintenance dredging of the site had been anticipated two years following the opening of the pass, would be more invested in the status of the project he helped oversee. His statement that "it’s not closed yet" doesn't give us any confidence that the matter will see swift resolution.
But a swift resolution is what we need. The longer the pass continues to fill in, the more laborious — and costly — the maintenance dredging project will become. The county must first await authorization for a permit modification to re-dredge Blind Pass and, if approved, they may even be able to utilize dredges that will be working on Fort Myers Beach this spring.
Though we acknowledge the county’s engineering expertise and understand that thorough analyzation of the pass is necessary if they’re going to try to find a more permanent solution rather than just "a quick fix," in the interest of sparing both the county and the island communities unnecessary cost and inconvenience in the future, we are urging Neal and his fellow county officials to take immediate action on the Blind Pass situation.
Islanders have long championed efforts to preserve nature as best we can; to make decisions with an ear always listening to environmental concerns. Adding additional expenses to an already costly project might not seem like a sound financial decision. However, keeping the pass open — paramount to the health of our local waters and wildlife — will likely have a positive economic impact, including the real estate market and tourist trade. In this case, Mother Nature needs our help.
We urge project directors to fast-track the permitting process and take all of the steps necessary to remedy this matter in short order. For the good of the island community, but moreover, for the good of the environments — of land and sea — impacted by Blind Pass.
— Reporter editorial