By Danielle Dodder
Marco Island currently has approximately 200 miles of seawall. They perform the key functions of preventing land loss and keeping channels navigable, but many of them are reaching the end of a 30 year lifespan. On average, a concrete seawall costs $300 per foot. One million and fifty-six feet of Marco seawall translates into about $316,800,000, a potentially huge source of revenue for business and a large cost investment for the 8,000 or so homeowners now on waterfront property.
A newly- passed city ordinance is forcing the seawall industry to re-evaluate how it does business, and how those changes will be passed along to consumers. Perhaps the most unusual part: the catalyst for these wide-ranging impacts is a mere six complaints to city code enforcement.
Jim Timmerman is a member of the Waterways Advisory Committee, which along with the Planning Board has been tasked with vetting alternatives to the use of vacant residential lots for seawall construction staging. The committees have six months to produce a solution, or the use of vacant lots will be banned altogether in April 2013. “This whole process is based on six complaints.” Timmerman sought to evaluate construction’s impact on ‘quality of life,’ the rationale behind the ban. “What I learned from Liz Carr is that a total of six people complained [last year] and four of those complaints were directed at one contractor.”
The Planning Board and Waterways Advisory Committee are at the beginning stages of formulating an answer to the ban, but preliminary alternatives center around three points:
• The Punta Gorda model. The city of Punta Gorda put its seawalls under public domain instead of private enterprise. Tax districts were established by seawall age and the city buys materials and fabricates the seawalls. Contractors are delegated with installation. “Because it’s a collaborative effort, there are fewer complaints,” said Timmerman. Planning Board member Marv Needles pointed out, “we’ll be taxing people who have already paid a great deal to have their seawall done.”
• Heavily restricted use of lots. “In Cape Coral, the use of vacant lots is limited to hours, not days, so it is possible,” said Timmerman. Limiting use to off season was another alternative suggested.
• Incorporation of new technologies. “The perception that there’s one standard [concrete] is not true.” Public Works Director Tim Pinter explained that the city is currently using alternative materials for the replacement of the seawall at the north treatment plant.
The city turned to a composite seawall manufactured by Everlast Synthetic Products when replacing the old wall with traditional concrete wasn’t feasible. Justin Martin is the manager of engineering, technology and operations for city utilities. He explained that the new wall needed to be taller and eliminate a drop off. Its sheer size made both concrete and steel impractical logistically and economically. “The city saved about $230,000 using this composite seawall versus a steel panel seawall.” Despite the size of the panels, Pinter pointed out that were easily moved onsite with a truck, something not possible with concrete.
Brian Gilmore is the owner of Collier Seawall and Dock. The committees asked him to share his perspective at the meeting. His comment summed up the policy challenges ahead: “There’s no magic bullet.” Gilmore added that his company works with both vinyl and concrete and that alternative materials have their own drawbacks. Vinyl, he says, costs “around 800 per foot,” and installation comes courtesy of a vibratory hammer that sounds “like machine gun fire.”
Gilmore closed his remarks with a quality of life counter argument of his own: “What you [the committees] don’t hear are the phone calls of people in tears who may have a fixed income and are facing seawall replacement. What about the quality of life for those people, especially if the cost goes up?”
The Planning Board and Waterways Advisory Committee will continue to hold joint workshops on the issue. Meeting calendars and agendas can be found on the city website at www.cityofmarcoisland. com