Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL)

PUNTA GORDA — While residents wait for their seawalls to be fixed, Punta Gorda has hired a contractor to provide erosion control using a cutting-edge system to properties in immediate need.

After a successful demonstration in December, the city approved a purchase order to Lake & Wetland Management — an environmental resource management firm — for SOX Erosion Solutions, a system that helps curb erosion. Soon after, the city approved another order.

Five months ago, 15 miles of seawall in Punta Gorda Isles suffered catastrophic erosion-related failure due to Hurricane Irma. Work is underway to replace seawall throughout PGI, a process that may take up to 18 months.

Lake & Wetland is working on the most devastated parcels to stop further erosion before the concrete seawall slabs are installed.

“We are using the SOX in about 3 percent of our failures — places where the erosion could significantly worsen before permanent repairs can be made,” Mark Gering, the city’s engineer, said this week.

SOX — a fully integrated erosion control system — is made of a bio- and photo-degradable material that stops erosion and provides a foundation for vegetative rehabilitation. The product, which is designed to withstand high-energy and high-wind events, has patents on its material and anchoring system. It prevents dangerous fertilizers and chemicals from running-off into the canal and, ultimately, creates a living shoreline.

The product has been around for 18 years and survived hurricanes Matthew and Irma, Mattie Rush, lead ecologist at Lake and Wetland, said.

“For some, safety of their children is the top priority. Others just want to get their boats back,” Rush said. “It’s kind of scary. Sometimes you don’t see the dramatic effect, but it’s there; slowly showing itself.”

Following a demo, Lake & Wetland began installation of its SOX solution products Jan. 29. So far, it has worked on 13 sites, encompassing 20 houses and totaling 800 linear feet.

The city’s combined purchase order with Lake & Wetland was $211,000, covering 4,000 linear feet. Initial costs per linear foot were $55 before dropping to $52 a foot in the second purchase order. Should private customers wish to buy the product directly, Lake & Wetland may offer a comparable price, Rush said.

The cost to repair 15 miles of seawall in PGI may range between $30 million and $40 million, Kristin Simeone, the city’s financial analyst, said during a recent discussion on Punta Gorda’s long-range financial plan.

Burnt Store Isles — which noticed three-fourths a mile of destruction — will have to wait to have its seawalls repaired. Harborwalk also noticed damage.

“We do not expect to be using it in BSI or Harborwalk, but we will have an open purchase request should problems develop,” Gering said.

Rush said the biggest concern now is “reducing the risk.”

“We’re trying to make a dangerous situation stable once again. … We’re dealing with these gaping holes where land was just ripped out. I understand people’s anxiety,” she said, noting SOX, typically, takes a day to install on an average parcel.

Rush said that PGI’s intricate canal system has forced Lake & Wetland to treat each property uniquely.

“We need to treat each differently to make sure each is properly secured,” she said.

Walking along the canal system off Bal Harbor Boulevard and looking at rows of seawalls turned to rubble, Rush said the damage in Punta Gorda is the most severe she’s seen while at Lake & Wetland, which works in 10 states and three countries.

Bill Boehm, who lives along Bal Harbor, was one of the first to have a SOX system installed in PGI. He said the system has stopped erosion.

Lake & Wetland Management is Florida’s certified installer and exclusive distributor of SOX Erosion Solutions’ patented erosion control systems.

For more information on SOX products, Rush can be contacted at 941-260-7049 or m.rush@www.lakeandwetland.com.

Email: jscholles@sun-herald.com

Jonathan Scholles
Staff Writer
Sun Newspapers
941-206-1129