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PGI’s Extraordinary Waterways

EnvironmentPGIWaterways

Contributed by:  Tom McAlear

My name is Tom McAlear. I am a citizen of the United States and specifically of the great city of Punta Gorda, Florida. I am a citizen involved with the object of making my community better than I found it. Therefore, I volunteer. I volunteer in the US Coast Guard Auxiliary to help make the surrounding waters safe through education and assistance. I volunteer in the Punta Gorda Police Department in Traffic Control for parades, in Parking Enforcement to provide access for those who need handicap parking spaces and to the Volunteer Marine Patrol for safety, education and code enforcement on the waters of Punta Gorda. I volunteer as vice chair of the PGI Canal Advisory Committee.

I am telling you this because over the next few months I will be providing articles dealing with the waterways of PGI from a perspective of one who is interested and active on the waters of our community. In future articles I will deal with the canal system, its ownership and maintenance. I will write about the PGI Canal Advisory Committee. I will discuss the Punta Gorda Police presence on Punta Gorda waters.  I will introduce you to the Police Volunteer Marine Patrol, their composition, objectives and responsibilities. I will discuss the City of Punta Gorda Codes that apply to the city waters. I will try to anticipate and answer your questions about the waterways of our city.

I don’t believe that people move to Punta Gorda for the shopping or restaurants or proximity to cultural events. I believe people come here to enjoy the warm winter weather and to enjoy boating, particularly when they can keep their boat in their back yard.  We can’t control the weather, but we can control the canals and the use of boaters in them to provide a safe environment for all of us. This includes the protection of people, boats and seawalls, the three elements that make Punta Gorda a very special place.

It would be difficult to cover all the aspects of the PGI canals in a book, let alone a small article, so I will cover a portion of Punta Gorda’s maritime environment each month. In the meantime, if you have questions or problems, here are a few sources to contact for help.

Excessive wake or boater operator problem reports: Police Department  639-4111 or  www.ci.punta-gorda.fl.us , and go to “Police Department”, then “Marine Patrol”, then “Marine Enforcement Request”. (The City WEB page has a great deal of useful information).  Seawall problems/questions: Canal Maintenance  575-5050

The PGI Canal Advisory Committee meets every third Monday at the City Council Chambers at 1:30 p.m.. All citizens are welcome and encouraged to attend.

The Canal System

Contributed by:  Tom McAlear

There are fifty-five miles of canals within Punta Gorda Isles. This means more than one hundred and ten miles of seawalls. These seawalls are the property of the PGI Canal Maintenance District, not the individual property owners. This is unique in all of Florida. It is the only community that maintains the seawalls, seawall caps, dredges the canals and canal inlets from an outside body of water. What does all this mean for the residents of PGI?

It means a great bargain. Instead of paying $34,000 for an eighty foot seawall, a large annual insurance premium for protection from seawall damage/loss, recurring maintenance costs, plus the cost of canal and inlet dredging and navigation signage, residents pay an annual fee to the Canal Maintenance District. In addition, Canal Maintenance, at no added expense to home owners, will come to your house and fill in any sink holes that appear next to the canal walls. All of this is a great bargain.

The original canal walls are approaching fifty years of age. Some are in failing health and need to be replaced. Some need to be recapped, extending their useful life, some need to be stabilized, and some need to be patched. This is an ongoing process, accomplished by marine contractors hired by the District and by Canal Maintenance employees. Canal Maintenance has surveyed all the canals and identified by a priority ranking system which sections of the seawalls and caps need to be repaired or replaced, and the order in which the work will proceed. There is now a growing backlog of seawalls and caps that need attention.

So given the task of maintaining the safety and beauty of the PGI canal system, several initiatives have been implemented. For example, the new seawall panels are of stronger concrete, they are two feet deeper and have pressure relief holes molded into them to prevent water from collecting behind them and pushing the seawalls out. The new caps are larger and stronger with more corrosion resistant, epoxy coated reinforcing bars (rebars) in them. New caps are now tied to buried anchors with three rebars instead of the previous one rebar per anchor.

To protect the seawalls, there are several restrictions on property owners. Current rules prohibit planting trees or installing any structures within six feet of the backside of the seawall cap. A fence, when permitted, can abut the seawall cap, but at the homeowners’ expense, would have to be removed in the event of repair or replacement of a cap or wall. Attaching cleats or fences to the seawalls or caps is now prohibited.  If you have any attachments to the sea wall or cap, you may call Canal Maintenance at 575-5050 and they will remove the attachments and patch the surface to maintain the integrity of the cap or wall.

 Proactively, you can start the process now and take steps to preserve the integrity of the cap and seawall holding your backyard out of the canal. Eventually, every cleat, fence post, and handrail is going to have to be removed from the seawalls and caps. Through attrition, structures on or near the caps will have to be removed to protect the investment of all PGI property owners in the Canal Maintenance District.

I invite everyone to attend the PGI Canal Advisory Committee meetings that take place on the third Monday of each month in the City Council Chambers in City Hall at 1:30 p.m. to see how the process of maintaining our canals is accomplished.

Canal  Codes and Courtesies

Contributed by:  Tom McAlear

Like any public thoroughfare, there are rules that apply to the navigable waters of Punta Gorda Isles. The rule that causes the most trouble pertains to speed and boat wake. Any boat moving through the water creates a wake. The boat operator is responsible for the wake he or she causes. If excessive, this wake can cause erosion at the base of the canal seawall. Erosion leads to seawall failure and cost to every home owner in PGI. Excessive wakes also can cause damage to docked boats by slamming the boats against the docks. This also can get very expensive for the boat owner.

There are rules in the Punta Gorda City Codes that regulate the speed and wake conditions in the canals. Because different boats create different size wakes at different boat speeds, the City Codes deal primarily with the wakes created. The entire PGI canal system, out to the number “1” day marker of the inlet channels, is designated a “Slow Speed – Minimum Wake” zone with one exception.

The crux of this Code is the definition of “Slow Speed – Minimum Wake,” because, in general, planing boats push our greater wakes than full displacement boats. A ten foot dinghy can produce a higher wake than a forty foot sailboat at the same boat speed. Therefore the definition of “Slow Speed – Minimum Wake” is “boat settled in the water and not plowing.” This means no bow wave, boat level and no bouncing boats at docks behind the moving boat. 

Now the exception. Entering Ponce de Leon inlet channel, the “Slow Speed – Minimum Wake” changes to “Idle Speed – No Wake” at daymarker “8” just west of the fishing docks and continues through the “S” curve to daymarker “18” at the entrance to the rim canal that is the outer boundary of PGI. This speed is defined as “lowest speed needed to maintain steering.” Because boaters are launching and retrieving boats from trailers at the Ponce launch ramp, this speed is necessary to prevent injury to people on the ramp and damage to boats caused by even small wakes. Remember, you as a boat operator are responsible for your wake and any injury or damage your wake may cause. Due to the narrow width of the canal and several limited-sight corners, boat speed is restricted to “Idle Speed – No Wake” between Ponce Inlet daymarkers “8” and “18”.

The above Codes are enforced by the Punta Gorda Police, the County Sheriff, the Fish and Wildlife Officers, and the Punta Gorda Police Volunteer Marine Patrol. The violation of Excessive Wake results in a Code Compliance citation and a fine of $100.00.

Now to avoid running afoul of the City Codes, the best solution is Courtesy. Be courteous to the boat owners whose docks you pass while transiting the canal system. Watch your wake and reduce your speed to prevent a wake that slams boats against the docks. Slow Speed – Minimum Wake will also prevent the unseen erosion to the seawalls. The courtesy of Idle Speed – No Wake near the launch ramp at Ponce, through the narrow mangrove channel and the “S” curve prevents wake damage and gives boaters time to avoid close encounters with other boats.

Next month we will meet the agencies responsible for keeping our waterways safe.

Law Enforcement in the PGI Canals

Contributed by:  Tom McAlear

There are several agencies that operate in the PGI canals to ensure the safety of boats, boat occupants and physical property. The primary safety agency in the canals is the City of Punta Gorda Police. Other entities have jurisdiction in the canals and surrounding waters to Punta Gorda. These include the Charlotte County Sheriff, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the US Coast Guard and the Punta Gorda Police Volunteer Marine Patrol. For the fastest action on a police issue in the canals call the Punta Gorda Police Department at 639-4111.

The mission of the Punta Gorda Police is to keep the city waterways safe. This area extends from Emerald Point in the East around the shoreline of Punta Gorda on the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor to Mangrove Point in the South and the canals of Punta Gorda Isles (PGI) and Brunt Store Isles (BSI).

The current Marine Officer is Officer John Kennedy who patrols the City in a 24 foot Nautica rigid inflatable police boat. His duties include boat inspections, fishing license and catch inspections, controlling boat speeds in Emerald Point basin, two marinas, two launch ramps, and the canals of PGI and BSI. As a one-man unit, Officer Kennedy’s duty shift is variable. As the situation requires, he patrols in the early morning hours, afternoons and late at night. Since it is impossible for him to be everywhere at once, twenty-four hours a day, he patrols at varying hours in areas of the city, chosen at random. He tends to be in the areas of the most boat traffic. He enforces state statutes and city code ordinances and has the power of arrest.

The Charlotte County Sheriff Deputies work primarily in the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor. They have a large area to cover and leave most of the law enforcement within the canal system to the City. They enforce state statutes and have the power of arrest.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission Officers are Florida state law enforcement officers. They work mostly outside the City, however, in case of a serious boating accident within the canal system, they are the investigating agency. In addition to fish and wildlife duties they enforce state statutes and have the power of arrest.

The US Coast Guard is an infrequent visitor to PGI waters from their base at Station Fort Myers Beach. In smuggling of drugs or people they cooperate with all local law enforcement agencies and regularly conduct joint operations with city and county law enforcement units. They enforce federal and state statues and have the power of arrest.

There are three other police sponsored units operating in and around Punta Gorda. They are the Punta Gorda Police Volunteer Marine Patrol, an adjunct to the Punta Gorda Police Marine Officer, the Charlotte County Sheriff Volunteer Marine unit, and the PGI Marine Neighborhood Watch unit. I will cover these units in more detail in another article.

Many issues involving the canal system of  PGI are discussed at the Canal Advisory Committee meetings at 1:30 p.m. at City Council Chambers, the third Monday of each month. These meetings are open to all residents. You are always invited to come.

Law Enforcement in the PGI Canals

Contributed by:  Tom McAlear
Coordinator, Punta Gorda Police Volunteer Marine Patrol
Vice Chairmen, PGI Canal Advisory Committee

Previously I have written about the condition of the canal walls and caps and how we are working to make them better and stronger. I wrote of the rules for boaters operating in the canals and the Police, safety and education measures taken to protect people and property. I introduced the law enforcement and volunteer units that work to make the waterways of PGI safe.

Now, what can you do to help? 

  • First: Operate your boat at slow speed, minimum wake in the canals and idle speed, no wake in marinas and Ponce Park inlet. Protect your seawall and your neighbor’s boats.
  • Second: If you see boats without navigation lights illuminated in the canals at night, call the Punta Gorda Police at 639-4111.
  • Third: Don’t yell at speeding boaters or those creating excessive wakes, instead call the Punta Gorda Police at 639-4111. Provide location and boat description. Once a problem area is identified, increased marine enforcement can be directed.
  • Fourth: Report seawall cracks and sinkholes to the Canal Maintenance District at 575-5050.
  • Fifth: You can become better informed about the canal system in PGI by attending the Canal Advisory Committee meetings the third Monday of each month in the City Council Chamber at City Hall at 1:30 p.m..

This is the sixth article about PGI canal system and the law enforcement and volunteers who work to make our marine environment a safe place to enjoy. Copies of the previous articles are available by e-mail from the PGI Civic Association. E-mail the Association at www.pgica.org and request the “Canal Articles” and I will e-mail all six of them to you. 

Boat safe with fair winds and following seas.