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What to do with the Chiquita boat lock?

Posted at 11:02 AM, Apr 23, 2019

CAPE CORAL, Fla. -- The Chiquita boat lock sits like a lonely sentry at the southernmost point of Cape Coral, creaking open and closed to let boaters in and out of the canal.

It's been there since the early 1980's. Its days, however, may be numbered thanks to impatient boaters who say it's unnecessary.

And the main reason why boaters want to get rid is the boating backups. The Sky Fox drone shows that even on a Friday afternoon - not even the weekend - boats are lined up all the way down the canal to get through the lock. And as the weekend goes on the line gets longer.

"On a Saturday around noon, the line can cue up 20 boats down the line, and that could take a lot of time to get through," says one boater.

At a recent public hearing on what to do with the lock, there was finger pointing and angry arguments for and against.

"Behind the barrier we have run off and fertilizer from our yards; that water, when you pull the plug, goes right out of the estuary," said the head of the Matlacha Civic Association.

Ray Judah is an environmentalist and a former Lee County commissioner who's been monitoring the health of the water in and around Southwest Florida for years. He says dismantling the lock is shortsighted. "They would see a continued decline in the environment that they want to enjoy."

The lock protects the fresh water in the canal from the tidal waters and pollution of the Caloosahatchee River, and vice versa. To see what happens when they mix, all you have to do is go back a decade. That's when the Ceitus boat lift on the north end of Cape Canal was removed. Photos show that once the boat life was removed, pollution from surrounding waterways found its way into the canal.

That’s something Judah says will happen again. "So long term, if this lock is removed, it will ultimately result in the decline of our tourism, industry, our real estate industry, or our environment. So there is an economic impact."

Neil Cresswell, the president of real estate giant Sell-State, has been selling homes in what's called the Cape Harbor area for years. He says the removal of the lock will be a boon to the local real estate industry.

“Prices are going to increase the closer you are to the lock. It is not unrealistic to expect homes closest to the lock to go up 10%, depending on the market at the time. There is no question in my mind that there will be an increase in demand when the lock is removed."

There is a proposal to add another lock to speed things up or install a high speed version which could cut down wait times. But both options individually could cost between $8 million and $12 million.

Then there's something called the bubble screen. It was tried out this past summer in Cabot Canal near the Cape Coral Bridge. It would sit on the canal floor where the lock is now and send a continuous stream of bubbles to the top of the water. The mayor says in recent tests it's been shown to keep things like seaweed away.

But will it work on red tide and blue-green algae? No one can say.