Cape Coral and Southwest Florida Feature Stories

Blind Pass on Sanibel

Blind Pass on Sanibel - Dredge

Blind Pass is a landmark destination - the waterway which separates two of Southwest Florida’s most beloved barrier islands, Sanibel and Captiva.

If you want to visually understand the recent dilemma surrounding Blind Pass, modern technology makes it possible without even leaving your computer.

Call up Google Maps ( Type “Blind Pass Sanibel” into the search box. Then zoom in on the little waterway separating the two islands. This is what you’ll see:

Blind Pass open

Incidentally, this is how Blind Pass looked in the summer of 2009.

Now reach up and use your cursor to grab the little orange man above the zoom function on Google Maps. Drag him over, and drop him onto the middle of the bridge to put Google Maps into “street view”. This is what you’ll see:

Blind Pass Closed in filled

Wait a minute...where did the open waterway go?

It’s not a mistake or a computer glitch. This is the way Blind Pass looked for almost ten years prior to the summer of 2009 - not a pass at all, but a piece of dry land.

What was once a pass, somewhere along the line, filled in with sand - ruining the day for some local business owners and former waterfront property owners. It was a few years before the public began to realize that the damage reached deeper than just the pockets of a few unlucky individuals. Wildlife in the back bay and various bayous begin to show signs of distress. Thick mats of slimy green algae began to bloom - choking out life and depleting precious oxygen. Gamefish abandoned the ecosystem - snook, sea trout, redfish and snapper all headed for healthier habitats. The water became murky, wildlife disappeared, oyster bars died, mangroves dried up, and sea grass withered. Water moves in mysterious ways, and some of those ways give and take life.

Concerned residents and local conservation groups, including the Captiva Erosion Prevention District (CEPD), fought to reopen Blind Pass. In 2001, a quarter of a million dollars were spent on a dredging project which opened the pass. Local legends abound about the prompt appearance of long lost gamefish in the immediate area. The opening closed up again ten days later.

Understanding settled in...the next battle against Mother Nature needed to be fought with more money, a bigger number of troops and heavier artillery. It took a few years to organize the massive and elaborate $3.2 million dollar war against the sand...a coalition of alliances needed to be built: CEPD, Lee County agencies, Florida State agencies, Federal agencies and the Army Corps of Engineers.

The first shot was fired in December of 2008, with the arrival of ugly earth moving equipment. The sand finally surrendered on July 31st, 2009 when water unexpectedly eroded its way around a sheet pile wall near the end of the construction process.

Water flowed freely. Water quality in affected areas improved. Wildlife returned. Home and business owners rejoiced.

That was one year and six months ago. If you drive over to Blind Pass right now, this is what you’ll see:

blind pass sandbar sanibel

Pay special attention to the long and prominent sandbar with the person standing on the end of it -- this sandbar is threatening to reach across Blind Pass, and seal it off once again.

If you divide the $3.2 million it cost to open Blind Pass into the 550 days it’s been open - you come up with a cost of $5,818 dollars a day...the longer it stays open, the less that cost becomes. Earlier this week, Michael Mullins (chairman of the CEPD) was quoted in the Fort Myers News-Press as stating, “There is probably a 75% chance of the pass closing...if it does, it could happen in the next month or two, if not sooner.”

Experience has taught everyone involved that Blind Pass will not remain open without regularly scheduled human intervention. Maintenance dredging will need to become an ongoing reality -- with a hefty price tag. Robert Neal, Lee County’s coastal engineer in its Division of Natural Resources, puts the “conservative” estimate at $3 million dollars every five years.

Lee County residents who don’t frequent the Blind Pass area call the costs of maintenance dredging a “waste of taxpayer money”. Mullin’s says the money wouldn’t be an issue if Lee County hadn’t already “over-committed on other things such as stadiums” - a reference to the $70 million in tax dollars funding the new Red Sox Spring Training facilities. Some are concerned about the wildlife. Others think wildlife is being used to push through an expensive program that only benefits a few, elite individuals.

Through it all - one certainty has emerged: Everything we do, or choose not to do, has costs and implications. The human race, and all its engineering, can only hope for a temporary impact against nature, at most. In the end, the earth has the final say. To think otherwise is a laughable folly.

— writing and video by Eric Taubert

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