Updated Code Allows More Sustainable Construction, Repairs of Seawalls

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes

Council approved an ordinance Tuesday, April 5, regulating seawall construction and repair methods, as well as other shoreline stabilization techniques in areas where a seawall is not permitted. It passed by a 4-1 vote with Vice Mayor Richard Johnson voting against it.

This revised ordinance (22-001) provides residents with greater flexibility in construction methods and choices of materials when seawall repair or replacement is necessary. A majority of existing seawalls on the island were constructed more than 50 years ago and are deteriorating. Since then, advancements have been made in design, materials and repair methods.

It has taken the planning department, planning commission and council collectively more than a year to update many sections of the code regulating seawalls and other methods of shoreline stabilization. Councilman Mike Miller said a lot of people have spent a lot of time on this complicated, but much needed, update.

“Seawalls are not permitted everywhere on the island, but those who have them can repair and renovate them in an environmentally responsible way,” said Miller. “This legislation also deals with shoreline stabilization in areas not involving seawalls, which can be done in an environmentally sound manner. I appreciate everyone who has spent so much time on this.”

Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation Coastal Resilience Manager Carrie Schuman, Ph.D., who spoke during public comment, said there are positive inclusions in the code updates.

“We recognize this still represents a conditional, limited use of seawalls, which we think is important and still in the spirit of the Sanibel Plan,” she said. “We did see there was due diligence in considering materials and understanding there are trade-offs in terms of considering the capacity of a seawall to be effective versus that environmental impact.”

Schuman mentioned the limited science behind microplastics. “We note the decision right now for materials is a sound one from what we understand,” said said.

Sanibel resident Karen Storjohann, who also serves on planning commission, took issue with that single aspect of the ordinance. “I think it totally violates the spirit and intent of the Sanibel Plan to use vinyl,” she said.

“You can call it whatever you like, but it degrades in the environment and into microparticals that get into our food chain and winds up on our tables,” Storjohann said. “I can not think of anything more abhorrent to the founders of our city than putting something knowingly into our waters that could damage our community.”

She said leaving vinyl as a material choice is not consistent with the Sanibel Plan and asked council to consider removing it.

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