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State judge recommends Chiquita Lock remain in Cape Coral

The City of Cape Coral wants the Chiquita Lock gone, but environmentalists say it will cause problems and want it to stay. A state judge agrees the lock should remain.

The decision on the Chiquita Lock has been the topic of controversy for months. Boaters have complained about the wait times at the lock. Getting in and out of this spot can get busy, especially during season. But a state judge’s 50-page recommendation says the wait is worth it.

Cape Coral city leaders have tried for years to get rid of the Chiquita Lock, and the Florida Department of Environment Protection recently approved the removal of it.

Yolanda Olsen lives in Cape Coral and is one of the petitioners fighting to keep the Chiquita Lock in place. She is happy the state judge supports those who want to keep it in place.

“The lock was designed years ago to protect the mangroves and to separate Cape Coral’s nasty stormwater from the estuary,” Olsen said. “And that hasn’t changed.”

After months of review, Judge Francine Ffolkes says she agrees the lock should not be removed. In her recommendation Thursday, she said, “The project will adversely affect the public interest factors associated with the wetlands, fish and wildlife and their habitat.”

MORE: Judge Francine Ffolkes recommendation order for Chiquita Lock

In an email response, a Cape Coral city spokesperson confirmed the city received Ffolkes’ recommendation to keep Chiquita Lock.

“The city received the order, which contains a ruling against the city and Department of Environmental Protection,” the spokesperson shared in a statement. “The city attorney will be discussing the ruling and next steps with the mayor and council members.”

The city spokesperson went on to say they could not provide additional information while the Chiquita Lock decision remains a legal matter. We also emailed Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello who shared a similar response to the city.

“We need stop signs. We need school bus safety,” Olsen said. “I would rather my tax dollars not be spent on it”

Ffolkes’ recommendation is not a final decision on the matter. Next, the issue heads to environmental protection officials. The department will make the ultimate decision and decide whether to accept the judge’s recommendation. The review by DEP is expected in March 2020.

Matlacha Civic Association is among the petitioners fighting to keep Chiquita Lock, stressing environmental hazards that could manifest if it’s removed. Attorney J. Michael Hannon shared a statement with us that expressed his appreciation toward those who have stood against the removal of the lock.

“I am so appreciative of [petitioners] Kevin [Erwin] and John [Cassani], as well as the five citizens who took personal responsibility to stand up for Clean Water,” Hannon said in his statement. “The judge’s recommended order is an indictment of DEP, whom we expect to protect the environment, not conspire with Cape Coral. As for Cape Coral, do its taxpayers know the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were paid to Tallahassee lawyers and bogus experts? Let’s get an accounting.”

Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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