CHOKOLOSKEE, Fla - It's your money and Collier County leaders want to spend $4 million on a plan, they say, will save time and lives. The idea is to get to emergencies on the water faster, like missing boaters, or boat fires.
To do that, they say, they need to raise the Chokoloskee bridge about 4 feet. The bridge is the gateway for drivers to get between Chokoloskee and Everglades City, but for fisherman, tourists and emergency crews, it's more like a barricade.
"That could mean a matter of life or death for people that are out there," says Patricia Miller, a resident of Everglades City and owner of Oyster House Restaurant.
First responders with Ochopee Fire District say on any day with high tide, there is absolutely no way their fire rescue boats can get under the bridge. "It would probably be about 10 minutes extra to go through the bay, around the isalnd and back up to this particular location," says District Fire Chief Caleb Morris.
"It's very scary, because if you don't know the waters and you're waiting out there for what seems like forever, it would be so much easier for even the emergency squad to get through there," says Miller.
The bridge has been around since 1955. County leaders already agreed to replace it, which costs $3.4 million, but just last week they decided what it really needs is to be raised, which will cost an additional $500,000.
"If they were able to go under the bridge that would solve the issue," says Miller.
Miller is the owner of the Oyster House Restaurant in Everglades City. She says, raising the bridge will bring a big boost to local businesses. That's because, on any given day, the clearance is less than five feet. Small boats can get through, but for bigger ones, it's not an option.
"We lose a lot of business because they'll go to the east coast as opposed to coming down here because of that bridge," says Miller.
As for public safety, emergency officials say about 200 families will be better serve when the bridge is raised. "You can't base things off numbers. It could be the one particular call that makes a difference," says Morris.
Right now the county is in the design phase of the project. After that, leaders will find a company to do the work. They expect construction to start sometime next year.