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The cost of non-compliance
February 21, 2020

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The city of Cape Coral is looking at $7,000 in fines and administrative cost reimbursement to the state for an overzealous canal bank maintenance project.

City workers clearing the bank along the Coral Point Canal where the 5,600-foot-long manmade waterway narrows from 100 feet to 65 feet in width removed protected mangroves along with the invasive vegetation the project was intended to clear.

The red mangroves, along with native cabbage palms, were in and among overgrowths of Brazilian pepper and Australian pine that were to be manually cut back to improve visibility along the waterway that leads to the river, the city said.

Herbicide spraying was not allowed because the invasives were growing in mangrove habitat.

In addition to "altering" about 640 linear feet along the canal, the city also "dredged and filled" protected wetlands to access the banks through private property. The area impacted by the creation of the temporary 12-foot crossing constitutes about .05-acre, or 2,178 square feet.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, the city and the private property owner that granted access, Ripple Lake LLC, have worked out a consent order. It calls for the city to either pay $5,500 in civil penalties or provide an in-kind project or land donation with an equivalent value of at least $8,250 as well as pay $1,500 to cover costs incurred by the FDEP.

The consent order dated Monday, which the city has 20 days to sign, also requires the city to mitigate the damages it caused to the environmentally sensitive property which was green lighted Tuesday by Lee County for possible purchase and inclusion in the Conservation 20/20 land preservation program.

Ripple Lake LLC is not part of either the fine or restoration component. The property owner's responsibility is to allow the city with access to complete the ordered restoration.

Among the consent order's restoration requirements is for the city to remove the vegetation debris left by its efforts; to regrade the tracks and ruts through the wetlands its access created; to restore the bank with mangrove plantings; and then to monitor the restoration effort for three years with annual updates due to the FDEP.

Failure to meet deadlines could result in a penalty of $100 per day. Violation of the terms of the consent order could result in civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day per violation as well as damages and criminal penalties.

As these things go, the terms of the consent order are not onerous -- the fines seem lenient, the restoration requirements standard.

We expect the city will sign the order.

It's the smart thing to do.

So is much better due diligence and oversight.

The cost of non-compliance is not only a monetary burden to the taxpayers.

It's a hard hit to the environment those same taxpayers are paying to preserve.

-Breeze editorial

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