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CAPE CORAL | The fight over Chiquita Lock removal heading to trial

Posted at 11:15 AM, Nov 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-10 18:51:27-05

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — The fight over the removal of Chiquita Lock is heading to trial, with Administrative Law Judge Suzanne Van Wyk ruling that the lawsuit can proceed. This comes after multiple nonprofit environmental organizations, including Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation and Calusa Waterkeepers, were forced to withdraw as petitioners from the legal challenge.

  • The case is scheduled to happen Nov. 29 through Dec. 7.
  • Cape Coral is arguing the boat lock has outlived its usefulness, causes unnecessary boat safety concerns, and the city's new environmental plan will address all the environmental concerns
  • Opponents argue the removal could push polluted canal water into the Calooshatchee River, instead sending through he mangrove wetlands to capitalize on natural filtration.
  • The city also cites manatee safety. It says manatees die in the lock. But opponents argue an improved lock would reduce danger to manatees and protect the Calooshatchee's already depleted seagrass beds.

To remove or not? The fate of Chiquita Lock maybe be decided soon. As the city of Cape Coral says it has outlived its purpose, while opponents say it could push polluted water into the Caloosahatchee.
"Chiquita Lock has been broken, broken open since the storm, since Ian came through,” said Matt DePaolis, Environmental Policy Director for Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.

Now, the fate of the broken lock is heading to trial. The City of Cape Coral has been trying to remove the lock since 2018, but failed in previous challenges when the city did not meet the requirement of the permit needed to remove the lock and prove the water quality standards would be met. Now the city is trying again, after planting more mangroves and improving storm water drainage.

"To deem that mitigation enough to completely remove this lock that is necessary right now, strikes me as premature and I think we really need to consider the ramifications," said DePaolis.

Despite SCCF being forced to pull out of the lawsuit in August, DePaolis says the way Chiquita Lock was built prevents water from freely flowing out into the Caloosahatchee, and instead naturally cleans the water through the 3,000 linear feet of existing mangroves.

"As water moves slowly through the roots of the mangroves, a lot of the nutrient pollution in that water is filtered naturally," said DePaolis.

Also, manatee safety. FWC says 10 manatees have died because of the lock over the last two years. DePaolis says the negative impacts to already depleted seagrass, a major food source for the manatees in the Calooshatchee Estuary, outweigh the risk.

"The main causes of manatee morality come down to starvation and boat strikes,” said DePaolis. “And even taking out a lock that would increase boat traffic and boat speeds."

But in the ideal world, DePaolis would like to see the lock not only fixed but improved.

"If we are talking about what we would like to see,” said DePaolis. “I would love to see, two-way high-speed lock with manatee exclusion device and warning signals and a lock tender so that we can prevent any unfortunate mortality with it."

Fox 4 reached out to the city of Cape Coral, and they tell me that they cannot comment on ongoing litigation. The case will head to trial on Nov. 29.