Sept. 19, 2017
Seawalls Across Southwest Florida Crumbling in Wake of Irma
By Chad Gillis
Is your seawall crumbling into the Caloosahatchee River or Gulf of Mexico? You're not alone as untold numbers of household owners across the area are in need of seawall repair or replacement in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Cape Coral was hit particularly hard.
"It’s pretty much widespread, and we’re talking all the way from Pine Island Road all the way down past Cape Coral Parkway," said Melanie Williamson, of Williamson & Sons Marine Construction in Cape Coral. "We have it all up and down Skyline. We have 30 or 40 (homes) off Del Prado."
Williamson & Sons is one of only a few contractors in Lee County that specialize in building and repairing sea walls. She said it will take months to repair all the seawalls. "My husband and I probably looked at well over 100 homes in two days this weekend, and we received over 300 phone calls," she said.
Much of the seawall damage happened when Irma pushed local waters away from the coast, as hurricanes do. Water washed out so fast that it stranded fish and marine mammals like manatees. Typically, the outside water puts pressure on the seawall and pushes against the wall and the dirt behind. That balance was disrupted, though, when ocean waters receded and heavy rains started. Areas of Southwest Florida, on average, got about 10 inches of rain from Irma.
The rainwater in yards drained toward the canals — as it always does — and put immense amounts of pressure on the land side of seawalls. Without saltwater to support them from the outside, the seawalls couldn't handle that type of pressure.
"Generally the water comes into stay for 24 or 48 hours and the ground saturates and then the water in front of the wall flies out," said Ben Nelson, owner of Nelson Marine in Bonita Springs. "The entire property drains to the seawall. If it has any age on it at all, it’s going to get it."
The city of Punta Gorda reported damages as well.
"The primary cause of these failures can be attributed to water being sucked out of the canal system, while the heavy rains collected behind the seawall unequalizing pressure between the land and water," a press release from the city said.
Nelson said there weren't as many seawall failures in the Bonita Springs area as there were in places like Cape Coral, where thousands of homes line hundreds of miles of canals. "There’s some everywhere," Nelson said of the seawall failures. "We’re seeing some, but not a lot. I think we’ve probably got 20 seawall calls, which is a lot, but (here) there’s more dock damage."
"We were busy before this with new construction," Williamson said. "We came in this morning and had another 50 message on the phone and it just doesn’t stop. So it’s a pretty serious situation."