PRAC wary of Corps study
July 6, 2004
The Golden Gate Gazette
11725 Collier Blvd., Unit C
Naples, FL 34116
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After combing through the 400-page Southern Golden Gate Estates Project Implementation Report (PIR), members of the Property Rights Action Committee of Collier County (PRAC) say they have found some significant discrepancies in the draft document.

The plan was unveiled to a packed house, June 17, at the Best Western Motel. After complaints from numerous attendees regarding flooding, access, and emergency response, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers later extended the deadline from June 28 to July 13.

PRAC board member Bill Lhota says the group has concerns regarding some of the costs listed in the Draft as well as wording that indicates the Corps is not confident about flood control measures that will prevent flooding of properties in the Northern Estates.

According to Lhota, estimated costs to construct 25.17 miles of levees is shown at $5.6 million. The PIR states the project will need approximately 224,000 cubic yards of fill.

After using the Corps' figures to calculate the cost of 25.17 miles of levee at 44,299 cubic yards of fill, Lhota came up with a cost of $222,500 per mile.

According to Rick McMillen, of the Corps, the 224,000 cubic yards is the volume estimate for the Port of the Islands levees only, not for all five levees estimated for the project.

He said the volume estimate for all five levees is over 1 million cubic yards for a total construction cost of around $5,602,000.

Lhota says terminology such as "should" and "appears" give little confidence to homeowners as to the Corps' flood control plan to prevent flooding in the Northern Estates.

Earlier in the year, PRAC was involved with extensive discussions with state engineers and officials as to how the pump system would be constructed and how effective it would be.

In Section 6 on the Groundwater Impacts, the report states "Approximately 100 acres just north of I-75 on the Faka Union canal shows an increase of between 1/2 foot and 1 foot, but optimization of pump operations on alternatives 3D and 12 "should" negate any impacts in that area. In Section 6-109 the Corps states, "It appears that we have been successful."

"Should negate impacts -- It appears we have been successful?" Lhota asks. "That doesn't exactly provoke confidence."

"No, we are not certain," McMillen admitted. "That is why the sentences following that passage clearly state that we are continuing to work with the model between release of the draft and final reports, to ensure that we are confident of our results."

McMillen said given the most recent model results, with refined pump and water control structure operations, the Corps is confident that they will be successful in avoiding significant or adverse impacts North of I-75 in the Northern Estates.

The plan calls for 83 canal plugs, including the entire length of the Prairie Canal. Most roads will also be removed with the exception of Stewart Boulevard, which would still connect with Janes Parkway and Everglades Boulevard. Portions of Berson Boulevard would remain. These east-west roads would be modified to allow water to flow over or under them. Everglades Boulevard would remain between Stewart Boulevard and I-75.

Lhota submitted his concerns in a letter to Richard Bonner, Deputy District Engineer for Project Management with the Corps, requesting further explanation pertaining to previous concerns regarding Jesse Hardy's property.

Hardy, the lone homesteaded property owner in the Restoration area, has fought the DEP to keep his 160 acres deep inside the restoration area, despite purchase offers up to $4.4 million. After months of negotiations, the Governor and Cabinet gave their approval to use eminent domain to take Hardy's property if he does not settle by August 31.

PRAC has been assisting Hardy in his goal to keep his land. In Lhota's letter on behalf of the Committee, he refers to an April 26, 2004, letter written by Bonner to Ernest Barnett of the DEP.

In that letter, Bonner describes Hardy's property as "adjacent to one of the drainage canals, the Faka Union, and north of the proposed Faka Union Pump Station and Spreader Canal."

Lhota says if this is true, it negates a previous remark by Janet Starnes, of the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) that Hardy's property could not be bermed, like 6-L's farmland and others, because the project called for a pump station to be located on Hardy's property.

The current plan calls for the pump station to be located south of Hardy's property line. Lhota questions why the pumps couldn't be relocated north to protect Hardy's land.

"Since the Hardy property is not currently available for us to fully investigate for suitability, the pump station was placed immediately south of the property line," McMillen said. "If the property is acquired, it is possible that the spreader canal will be located in the vicinity of the current mining pit."


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