NAPLES, Fla. — Beaches and boating are two of the biggest pastimes in Southwest Florida. This week Collier County began a months-long, million-dollar project that is aimed at protecting both.
This week, Collier County started work on dredging two of its busiest waterways — Wiggins Pass in North Naples, and Doctors Pass in central Naples. The goal is to make the inlets deeper — and safer — and the beaches bigger.
In North Naples, mixed among the beach-goers and boaters of Delnor-Wiggins State Park and Barefoot Beach Preserve sits tons of heavy-duty equipment.
These massive machines are digging sand from the bottom of Wiggins Pass and putting it on the nearby shoreline.
“As sand erodes over time, it wants to find its way in the channel,” said Collier County coastal zone manager Andy Miller. “It makes it shallower and shallower as the years go by. We want to make sure these guys can get in out safely.”
Boater safety is the driving force behind this project, which will make Wiggins Pass and Doctor’s Pass in Naples deeper — which allows vessels to pass through easier.
Gator Dredging from Clearwater is the contract doing the work for the county.
“The No. 1 sport in Florida is boating,” said Philip Findlay, owner of Gator Dredging. “If you can’t get out of the pass, it makes it difficult to boat.”
On Wednesday, the company’s hydraulic dredge, named the Brittyn B., started sucking up sand from the bottom of Wiggins Pass. An 18-inch pipe then places the sand two thousand feet up the shoreline to renourish the eroded beaches.
“There’s going to be lot more depth for bigger boats to get out,” Findlay said. “It also should create less swell on the exterior part of the channel going out."
The dredging, which happens about every four years, is necessary because weather and waves push sand from the shores into the channels, making them more shallow — and more dangerous.
“It’s just gonna be much safer and easier them to get in and out of the pass,” Miller said. “You won’t have to worry about hitting shallow waters. Especially novice boaters, (they) will be able to get in and out very safely.”
The county hopes the dredging project can be complete in a few months, but they said that all depends on weather. In the meantime, officials ask boaters to use caution in the inlets and steer clear of the dredging equipment.