Calusa Waterkeeper, Inc. has withdrawn from the case, others will proceed.

The Calusa Waterkeeper Board of Directors has made the difficult decision to withdraw as named petitioners challenging the removal of the Chiquita Lock in Cape Coral.

This decision was made not on the merits of the case, but over a technical argument of when our organization became a “notified party,” and thus began the window for filing the challenge in the Florida Department of Administrative Hearings.

The challenge to the permit will continue with other named petitioners.

The City of Cape Coral hired an outside legal firm that specializes in cases and tactics that quash citizen involvement in local government affairs. Their strategies of “papering” the case, running up fees (on the taxpayers’ dime), and intimidating the non-profit organizations and individual citizens have partially worked.

However small the probability that the citizen petitioners may lose the case and be burdened with paying the opposing side’s legal fees, the Calusa Waterkeeper board could not expose the organization to that potential monetary risk.

The law firm representing the City of Cape Coral and Florida Department of Environmental Protection have assigned no less than six attorneys to this case to both overwhelm the citizen petitioners with various motions and filings while also running up the time and cost of their activities. This is another example in a long line of systematic efforts to diminish and discourage citizen initiatives by those in power throughout the state of Florida.

Despite our decision to withdraw, and despite the outcome of this challenge, Calusa Waterkeeper remains opposed to the removal of the Chiquita Lock. Removing this control structure will have negative impacts on the water quality (increased stormwater and nutrient loading) and surrounding habitat (degrading the mangrove fringe and smalltooth sawfish critical habitat) in the Caloosahatchee River and Matlacha Pass, among other concerns brought forward by the petitioners.

The city’s latest request to remove the lock should be denied on many of the same grounds it was denied a few short years ago in Administrative Law Judge Francis Ffolkes’ December 2019 ruling.

The fact that the City of Cape Coral refused to take ‘no’ for an answer and immediately doubled down their spending on more outside consultants and law firms to try to reframe the same action again, should alarm its residents. Similarly, anyone who cares for our environment should be equally alarmed as to why the Florida Department of Environmental Protection continues to approve and aid in these activities.

An improved, higher capacity lock has been discussed multiple times within the City government over the last few decades. In our view, an upgraded lock remains the “win-win” solution to this issue. A new modern lock can be engineered to both safeguard the water quality and groundwater table in the area, while also improving conditions for safe and convenient navigability for marine wildlife and boaters.

It’s time for the City of Cape Coral to step up and maintain the south spreader system as it was designed; to detain and treat stormwater runoff before being discharged into the estuary. Nutrient laden stormwater runoff contributes to the growth of harmful algal blooms such as red tide and blue-green algae.

It is the mission of Calusa Waterkeeper to protect and restore the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee to the coastal waters. Informing the public on the potential harm to water quality and estuarine habitat by the removal of the Chiquita Lock structures is not easy, but it is our duty.

Learn More: Read our October 2020 Position Paper on the issue.

About Calusa Waterkeeper
Calusa Waterkeeper (CWK) is a Fort Myers-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect and restore the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee to the coastal waters. CWK’s project area covers more than 1,000 square miles of water, and its work includes testing and reporting, educational and community outreach and public advocacy. CWK’s work relies on funding from individual donations, grants and a membership program that includes volunteer Ranger training. CWK is a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, with more than 350 Waterkeeper groups fighting for drinkable, fishable, swimmable water across six continents. For more information, please visit calusawaterkeeper.org