Structures along some of the canals in Lehigh Acres are going to be dismantled by the East County Water Control District (ECWCD) by July 19. Those affected homeowners have been notified and others may face the same fate as the district continues to inspect structures, such as piers, docks and other structures on water control district-owned land.
This includes the banks and the canals in Lehigh. Many homeowners over the years have built such structures that have deteriorated to the point that the district's liability may be in question.
The ECWCD's board of commissioners - Mike Welch, David Deetscreek, Mike Bonacolta and Nate Stout - discussed the matter in March and asked staff workers to identify those docks, decks and piers on district land in an ongoing plan to ensure safe, efficient operation and maintenance of its system.
On June 18 at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting the board okayed a list of such structures for immediate removal and charged ECWCD staff employees with the work to remove the identified structures.
An ongoing inspection is continuing on district lands to identify any other potential liability to the district or structure that may interfere with services and/or those that are in poor condition, which can be attributed to improper construction, old age, and/or lack of maintenance.
Carla Ulakovic, a community project specialist with the ECWCD said ECWCD staff is working to notify affected homeowners of the removal process and the appropriate approval process for reconstruction.
"The district staff and our board of commissioners are working to implement programs and improve policies which provide a pathway to deliver the best level of service," said David Lindsay, ECWCD' s district manager.
He said that over the next year, his staff will inspect district-owned lands and waterways in Lehigh to identify decks, docks and piers.
The staff of the storm water district will also verify permits on existing structures and identify those which cause problems such as prohibiting or limiting access to district owned property.
ECWCD crews are responsible for mowing grass along the wide banks of the canals and also to maintain ECWCD owned land. While all property lines go back as far as several feet from the canal, the property does not belong to the homeowner.
If structures are found which have not obtained the appropriate permits for construction, they will be marked for removal. A list of identified docks is available online at: www.ecwcd.com. There are about a dozen sites named.
Lindsay said in a news release that residents who would like to rebuild a dock behind their homes must first obtain both an ECWCD and a Lee County permit before construction. Such information is outlined in district policy papers.
If a homeowner wants to get a permit to build a structure on district land, they may contact Mike Cook, the assistant district manager at the district's office on East County Lane or to call him at 239-368-0044 at Extension 16. He will supply homeowners on canals with the proper documentation and guidelines for construction.
And if homeowners have questions concerning the removal of structures that is underway, call 239-210-1693 and ask for William Walker, ECWCD's water resource manager.
"Our crews are responsible for the maintenance of the banks and the canals on both sides and there are many instances where piers and other structures have been built and they hamper the work by our workers," Lindsay said. "And there is a problem about having to leave the site and not driving over a homeowner's property. Many of the piers we have targeted have not been maintained and can be considered dangerous. Many are so old that they are falling apart," Lindsay said.
An ongoing inspection of docks, decks and piers on district lands will continue to find poorly built structures and they will be removed.
Carla Ulakovic contributed to this story.