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Excavator for Wiggins Pass Dredging Project Sinks

Posted on October 12, 2015

The huge excavator from the barge used for dredging Wiggins Pass sunk beneath the stormy waves just beyond Delnor-Wiggins State Park on Tuesday.

“The excavator was on the barge and fell off during rough seas,” said Connie Deane, a spokeswoman from Collier County. “The excavator is the piece of equipment that pulls the sand away and does the job out there.”

Quality Enterprises of Naples was removing 9,400 cubic yards of material in the $242,304 project. The sand was being dug from the pass and moved to sites on either side of the channel to re-establish the ebb tide shoal and keep the pass from filling.

Lou Gaudio, vice president of Quality Enterprises, said the barge with the excavator on board was anchored off Wiggins Pass on Monday night. By early Tuesday afternoon, it was almost totally underwater.

“We knew last night,” Gaudio said. “We went out because we knew the weather was rough. We went out to check on it, and it had just occurred. The weather turned and the waves took it off.”

Rainy weather and slick roadways helped push crash reports Tuesday morning in Lee County to more than two dozen.

Heavy rains in south Lee County were responsible for a number of vehicle crashes on Interstate 75.

At mid-morning, Lt. Greg Bueno of the Florida Highway Patrol said that his department was actively involved in four along the freeway in the Estero-Bonita Springs area.

Bueno said the FHP had received 17 crash reports to the patrol’s Lee County communication center.

The Lee County Sheriff”s Office had responded to 10 reported crashes by 10 a.m. Tuesday, Lt. Scott Lineberger, a spokesman for the office, said. St. Clair Avenue in North Fort Myers and Shirley Street in Naples were also under water during the morning hours. There were also flooded streets in the Stoneybrook neighborhood in Estero. By early afternoon, the water had receded making the roads passable again.

On the water, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a notice to mariners about the sunken excavator and is overseeing work to keep boaters and the environment safe until the excavator is removed.

“There are 70 gallons of diesel fuel on board,” said David Schuhlein, a spokesman for Coast Guard. “It is not expected to leak, but we have to prepare for that so it is boomed off to stop any potential spill.”

Schuhlein said that with any navigation or pollution hazard the responsible party must immediately come up with a plan to resolve the situation.

“We supervise it all the way to the end until it is back to its original state,” Schuhlein explained.

Gaudio said he is working with the Coast Guard and an equipment recovery company to come up with a plan to pull it out.

“We are hoping it happens next week sometime,” Gaudio said.

He said the excavator will have to be replaced and expects about a two-week delay in the dredging project that is about halfway done while new equipment is brought in.

“We will get it turned around,” Gaudio said. “We will make it all right.”

The barge, crane and other equipment is safely anchored by the mangroves inside the pass. But a tug boat has been pushed onto the sand by Barefoot Beach.

“The tugboat pulled away from the barge and is on the beach. It can be pulled off and reattached so that doesn’t seem to be an issue,” Deane said.

Gaudio said the tugboat was also anchored by the pass when the weather turned. He said it came loose in the storm and lodged itself on the beach.

“That is being worked on right now with Sea Tow,” he said.

The few people on the beach during the storm were intrigued by the sinking excavator and beached tugboat.

“I was noticing that,” said Jurij Tupikow of Naples, who was fishing by the pass. “I was wondering what that was. It’s really rough water out here.”

“Things don’t look good for that barge,” said Naples resident Jane Buza, who watched it sink. “It’s lower than it was before. It’s going down.”

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