Officials digging boaters out of trouble

Officials digging boaters out of trouble

By Mike Mason. CREATED Jul 13, 2012 - UPDATED: Jul 13, 2012

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Two days after Fox4 exposes hidden dangers along Southwest Florida's coastline, help is now on the way. Officials approving plans to tackle those treacherous sandbars that have been stranding boaters. Four in your Corner's Mike Mason broke this story earlier this week and has the latest.

Tropical storm Debby created some serious sandbars and now officials are running to the rescue and digging boaters out of trouble. The people you see walking on this sandbar in Fort Myers Beach would have been up to their necks in water just a few weeks ago. Since tropical storm Debby hit, the water levels have dropped and huge sandbars have churned up in the channels along Matanzas Pass.

Steve Boutelle: "If it's significant enough that we need to go and dredge it now it's probably going to be big enough that it's going to be between one and two million dollars if I had to guess."

Steve Boutelle with Lee County's Division of Natural Resources says a dredging project has just been approved for Matanzas Pass just one day after Fox 4 reported how this has been impacting local boaters.

Steve Boutelle: "If it was a serious situation and we needed to go fix it today all the permits are in hand to be able to do that."

Captain Gene Becker says the situation is serious.  With shifting sediment creating huge sandbars - or shoals - just below the water's surface. It's stranding many boaters and threatens the local economy.

Captain Gene Becker: "The Key West Express, Big M Casino, the Fort Myers Princess, us and I'm sure all the shrimp boats are concerned too."

Boutelle says a survey was just conducted on Matanzas Pass and the results will determine when it needs to be dredged out. A project that will cost taxpayers millions but could also end up saving the local tourism and fishing industries.

Paul Dollman: "I've never seen it like this before."

Paul Dollman works with Sea Tow and since Debby hit he's been busier than ever towing boaters out of trouble. He says Fort Myers Beach is bad but even more boaters are getting grounded near the Sanibel lighthouse.

Paul Dollman: "People are going along and thinking, "Well, I've always gone this way, this is my normal day going past the lighthouse," not anymore."

Officials don't have plans to dredge around Sanibel. They say they'll consider looking into it if they receive complaints. If you know of any trouble spots you can report them to Lee County's Natural Resources Division, the number is 239-533-8128.