Posted on September 14, 2021
Naples City Council unanimously voted Thursday to send a letter to Collier commissioners in “strong opposition” of a multi-billion-dollar federal project meant to protect the county’s shores from storm risks.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is putting together a 50-year plan that would alter the county’s coast to harden its beaches, back bays and buildings, but some worry the proposal doesn’t go far enough.
City council’s letter, in part, agrees that beach renourishment and dune construction would benefit the area, but rejects other measures in the plan.
“… Other proposed solutions, such as construction of shoreline armor and structures creating barriers between beachfront residences and the shore, do not appear to reflect the will of the community and may also result in unintended consequences,” the letter says.
Naples is disproportionately affected by the plan, the letter says, as much on the county’s coastline is within city limits.
“Naples City Council strongly opposes Collier County Board of County Commissioners taking further action to participate with the USACE to pursue the recommended Study’s tentatively selected plan, in the absence of verifiable information from the USACE in response to the questions, comments and concerns from the City and its residents …, ” the letter says.
The letter follows a presentation given by County Commissioner Penny Taylor at the end of August, during which she said she will ask her fellow county commissioners to stop the Corps’ plan.
“Let’s plan the way we have always done with the help of science,” Taylor said at the August council meeting. “Let’s thank the Corps for what they did, but it’s not appropriate for Collier County.”
In April, the commissioners unanimously signed a non-binding letter for the Corps to continue moving forward with its plan, but still had hesitations.
“None of this is going to be set in stone,” Commissioner Andy Solis said. “It’s not a perfect plan but it’s $2 billion worth of funding, and we can’t throw the baby out with bathwater.”
The Corps’ draft study outlines multiple options, but engineers have chosen one as its Tentatively Selected Plan.
The preferred plan “not only has the highest annual net benefits out of all the proposed alternatives, but it also provides a more comprehensive and effective solution that aligns with the overall project objectives,” the study says.
The plan divides Collier’s coastline into six planning areas, stretching from Bonita Beach Road south to Marco Island.
Among the proposed measures:
- Renourishment of about 9.5 miles of beach berms and dunes along two reaches of shoreline, stretching from the northern county line at Bonita Beach Road through Vanderbilt Beach, and from Seagate Drive south to Central Avenue. Those reaches were identified as critical to help protect upland structures, both adjacent to the beach and along the inland bay areas during storms.
- A host of structural measures, which include, among others, surge barriers and floodwalls.
- “Dry floodproofing” of critical infrastructure buildings that were identified as at risk of storm damage. Dry floodproofing means the structure deters all water, while wet floodproofing lets water into a structure while still avoiding damage.
- Artificial reef structures near Marco Island that would disperse waters from storm surge.
- Acquiring 130 homes, floodproofing 620 non-residential structures and elevating 1,350 residences.
City council member Ray Christman said he has been disappointed at the lack of communication from the Corps after council members sent a letter outlining concerns.
“What I think is most frustrating to me is the tone deafness of the Corps and really their unwillingness or inability to enter into conversation, a dialogue, with the community,” he said. “This is a top-down planning process and I believe, always, bottom-up community-based processes are better.”
The city’s letter says there is a need for more information so residents can have a “true understanding of the impacts of any proposed solutions …”
In a reply to a public records request, the Corps said its responses to comments during the initial scoping period are public, but it has not “finalized its responses to the comments received during public review of the draft (study).”
Steve Barrett, president of the Naples Cay Condo Association board, said in an earlier interview that he believes the Corps’ plan is overengineered and will forever change the landscape of the county and its beaches. The plan will also put Naples Cay in a bad position.
“It’s not helpful to us and is actually significantly worse,” he said. “It can’t be allowed to happen.”
The county’s board of commissioners is set discuss severing ties with the Corps’ project during its upcoming meeting on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.