Nearly five months after an intergovernmental wrangle caused a federal permit allowing the city of Cape Coral to issue permits for building on Cape waterways to expire, the city can again issue those permits.
The new order announced this week by the Army Corps of Engineers does not give the city the same blanket permitting authority it previously carried for five years. It does, however, allow the Cape to issue permits providing the city follows a 10-day co-ordination period that allows for input, if any, from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
We hail the new five-year agreement.
And we say it's about time.
Back in October, with just three days notice, the Corps denied the expected extension of the previous agreement due to the lack of a Biological Opinion required by the National Marine Fisheries Service concerning the smalltooth sawfish. This fish is an endangered species whose heaviest single concentration locally can be found in southeast Cape Coral, primarily in canals in the area of the Yacht Club and the Caloosahatchee but also in other city waterways.
Both the city and officials with the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association say they were caught off guard by the 11th-hour refusal, which, as feared, added substantial time to the permitting process for such things as new and replacement seawalls, docks, lifts, dredging and any related repairs.
The city previously turned such permits around in two to three days.
The 10-day co-ordination period is a bit of a compromise - not as quick as allowing the city to issue permits without any additional hoops, but certainly better than relying on the federal agency for processing longterm.
The Army Corps of Engineers issued the city its previous general permit in 2007. While there is no legal requirement that the agency do so, it can and does allow for certain types of permitting on the local level for the sake of efficiency, a policy intended to eliminate duplication of effort.
As it did this go-around, the agency did retain responsibility for some permitting.
In 2009, regulatory parameters changed. In addition to listing the fish as a threatened species, its habitat was put on the critical habitat list.
That, in turn, prohibited an extension of the order under which the city had operated for the past five year because while the sawfishes' listing as a critical species did not require a biological opinion, the habitat designation did.
There was no biological opinion - and so there was no general permit extension.
That has now been resolved, although not in quite the same fashion as before.
We thank the city and the Corps for not letting this drift by the wayside. Like a lot of others in the Cape, we firmly hope that recovery is under way.
A smooth permitting process that, yes, protects a native species with a long-storied history in the Cape, is key to that.
- Breeze Editorial