As seen in a News-Press OpEd submitted by Jason Pim, Calusa Waterkeeper Volunteer Ranger, December 14, 2018

Opinions differ in Cape Coral surrounding the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s permission to remove the Chiquita Lock.

This aging facility separates the freshwater of the South Spreader canal system with the tidal waters of the Caloosahatchee. Some boaters argue the wait time is inconvenient and the lock no longer serves a purpose. Homeowners behind the lock likely feel their property values will be boosted if the lock is removed. Historically, they’d probably be right. After this year’s historic water crisis, I’m not so sure.

Trust me, SW Cape property owners, you do not want the cyanobacteria in your backyard. Yes, it is difficult to predict exactly where the algae might pile up in our canals. But for certain, we’d be abandoning a solid way to control its advance by removing the Chiquita barrier. An improved lock can also be effective in thwarting storm surge and increases in sea level.

Cape Coral’s locks were originally put in place as part of the spreader systems which were designed to detain and treat our stormwater runoff and prevent saltwater intrusion. Nothing has changed environmentally since the Chiquita Lock’s installation, except for the development of thousands of additional homes and businesses behind it.

The city’s permit application with the Army Corps states it is a safety hazard, but there are few accident reports to back that up. Inexperienced boaters pose a much larger safety concern than any stationary facility along our waterways.

So much is at stake if we simply destroy this facility and large earthen barrier. Engaging in the fight for clean water this summer, we’ve seen evidence our state agencies have not always had the best interests of our ecosystems and health in mind. Recently it would seem the DEP is in the permitting business more often than they are in the protection business.

Proposals for an impressive and modernized parallel boat lock have already been developed and presented many years ago. This would involve constructing a new boat lock measuring 30 feet wide and 140 feet long in the available area to the north of the current lock. This new structure, working in tandem with the current lock-through, has the potential to eliminate all wait times except for perhaps the busiest of holiday rushes.

We’d be crazy not to re-examine and pursue them amidst the water crisis we are still experiencing in Southwest Florida. The opportunity is here for our city leaders to find a compromise which will help protect our suffering ecosystem while providing boaters with a more convenient travel experience and improve nearby property values.

Yes, an upgraded lock would cost us money. But there’s a difference between a cost, and an investment. I fear our children will pay a much higher price if we don’t act as more responsible stewards of our environment. Building up barriers and weirs will be essential for us to consider in the face of sea level rise.

If you feel as I do, I would encourage you to contact Cape Coral and ask it to consider alternatives to the complete removal of the Chiquita Lock and barrier.

Learn More about Chiquita Lock