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Cape Coral councilman asks Florida's U.S. senators for help on seawall permitting

Oct. 24, 2012

In an effort to prevent a bloodletting of construction jobs in Cape Coral due to a seawall permitting snafu related to endangered fish, one city councilman is asking U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson to intervene.

But a federal official said Wednesday there is likely nothing that can be done until mid-December, when a study on the habitat of the smalltooth sawfish is scheduled to be complete.

“This is completely unacceptable and will cost Cape Coral hundreds, if not thousands, of construction industry jobs in the interim,” Councilman Kevin McGrail said about the December timeline in his letter to Rubio, Nelson and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV

McGrail is asking them to help determine if it’s possible to temporarily extend an agreement that allows the city to issue permits for seawalls, docks and boatlifts on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers. The agreement expired Oct. 12, despite assurances from the Corps that it wouldn’t, because of an “internal miscommunication” by the Corps.

Now, the permits must be sought directly from the Corps until a biological opinion is issued on smalltooth sawfish habitat by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Instead of a 24- to 48-hour turnaround time, construction industry officials say the wait could stretch anywhere from three to 18 months.

Krista Sabin, acting section chief for the Corps’ Fort Myers Regulatory Office, said staff will work hard to issue most permits within 60 days, bringing in employees from other offices if necessary.

The study is needed because the Cape Coral area was designated a critical habitat of the endangered smalltooth sawfish in 2009. The change affects more than 840,000 acres of sawfish habitat in Southwest Florida.

The Corps requested the study at the beginning of the year and it was decided the best course of action would be to review Cape Coral’s permit along with 11 other similar permits across the state expiring around the same time.

David Mulicka, president of Honc Marine, said the city has issued about 2,300 permits under the prior agreement with the Corps in the last 18 months. “Hundreds of permits are now at a standstill,” Mulicka said.

On top of delaying construction of new waterfront homes, he said the issue could also make repairs more costly if a badly needed fix can’t be performed in time. “That project may go from $5,000 to $50,000,” he said.

He said his office has already fielded several phone calls from confused customers and two people have told him they decided not to close on homes here because of the uncertainty.

“To have a crippling blow like this at the beginning of a fragile economic recovery is really just the opposite of what our economy needs right now,” he said.

Councilman Marty McClain cautioned there’s also a chance the study might not go in the city’s favor, which would be “catastrophic.”

“No one even wants to enterain that thought,” McClain said.

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