In a recent article in the Fort Myers News Press Gulf Access Lots in Cape Coral may now have major delays in getting seawall permits if not permitted by October 15th 2012.
Residential development in Cape Coral may soon slow to a crawl as an agreement between the city and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding seawall construction permits expires this week.
Starting Monday, all seawall construction permits will again be issued by the Army Corps. The city has issued these types of permits for the last five years and typically turns applications around in 24 to 48 hours, said Heather Mazurkiewicz, executive director and CEO of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association. Army Corps permit reviews can take between three and 18 months to complete.
The process change results from the establishment of smalltooth sawfish critical habitat in the Cape Coral area. The Army Corps informed the city and area developers Tuesday that the biological review is not in place and that the federal agency will not extend the current permitting process. “The Corps verbally stated in a meeting that we would extend the existing SAJ-91,” the Army Corps letter states. “As a result of an internal miscommunication, the Corps is unable to extend SAJ-91 because a biological opinion has never been prepared for the smalltooth sawfish critical habitat.” City Councilman Marty McClain said city and state officials have worked for nearly a year to ensure that the permitting process would continue uninterrupted.
“They just don’t care,” McClain said of the federal agencies. “They need to do their job or get out. It seems like they’d rather see a municipality crumble than conduct a biological review of an endangered species.” Because much of the Cape Coral area has been listed as critical habitat for the sawfish, blanket permitting for seawall construction will stop and all applications must go to the Army Corps until a biological opinion on sawfish habitat is conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Smalltooth sawfish critical habitat was established in 2009 with more than 800,000 acres of Southwest Florida waterways set aside to protect the endangered fish. Scientists still aren’t sure where sawfish breed and can, at this point, only identify possible habitat areas that may be nursery grounds for the gigantic species.
Years ago West Indian manatee protection plans and lawsuits nearly stopped residential boat dock construction completely in Lee County.
Mazurkiewicz said local developers and the city worked hard to avoid a manatee-like delay in permits. “We were assured by the Army Corps that they were going to extend the permit and we could continue to work toward a solution,” Mazurkiewicz said. “Not once was there a mention of a biological review, which has not occurred.”
Tunis McElwain, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Fort Myers Regulatory Office, said most federal permits are completed within 60 to 120 days, depending on the project’s environmental impacts. McElwain said the Army Corps has given all pertinent information to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has 135 days to complete the biological review after all information on smalltooth sawfish critical habitat has been assembled.