Living Shorelines Replace Collapsed Canal Banks

Living on a canal loses some of its luster when the canal banks collapse into the water, taking part of the yard, and maybe the fence or a dock with it.

That’s what homeowners in Lauderdale Lakes have been facing, after years of erosion and neglect.

But now, work crews are out on the banks creating a fortified “living shoreline” behind 40 homes in the Oriole Estates neighborhood.

The $1.5 million job to strengthen 3,250 feet of shoreline is the city’s largest canal bank restoration effort so far, Brian Fischer of Lake and Wetland Management and general contractor Abbey Fiallo of Metro Equipment Service Inc. said.

The porous shoreline is expected to better protect the waters from lawn runoff, such as fertilizers, that harm water quality.

“It was eroding. I’ve been here 17 years, so since I moved here, I’ve been fighting with the city to get something done,” homeowner Norman Blackwood said Monday outside his home on Northwest 33rd Avenue.

Canal-front homeowners from Daytona to Tampa to Miami have faced shoreline erosion. Fiallo said the severity depends on what materials were used to stabilize the shoreline, how the water flows, and how well it is maintained over the years, among other factors.

Behind the single-family homes in northeast Lauderdale Lakes, iguanas scurried Monday across knitted mesh material that crews from Lake and Wetland Management blanketed across the shoreline, over a rock base brought in on barges in recent weeks.

Once staked in and stabilized, the mesh is pumped full of black dirt — a combination of material dredged from the canal, compost material and topsoil, Fischer said. The bald, mesh surface is then topped with St. Augustine grass squares.

The result: backyards that grow by several feet, putting a safer distance between the erosive waters and residents’ pools, pool decks, docks and cabanas. The mesh keeps talapia and armored catfish from burrowing, a behavior that weakens the shoreline, Fischer said.

“We reclaimed up to six feet of new land in the back of their yards,” Fischer said. “It definitely … improves home values.”

Blackwood said he was expecting a concrete seawall to brace against the waters, which he said generally lap in the direction of his home. Fischer told him the system being installed now is more environmentally friendly and will hold up better. The grassy new banks have a more natural appearance than the traditional sea wall or rocky riprap.

“I promise you, you’re going to enjoy the look of it,” he told Blackwood.

If the buried mesh is not exposed to sunlight, it could last more than 20 years, according to Fischer, owner of SOX Erosion Solutions, the product installed behind the homes. It has a 10-year guarantee, Fischer said.

In Lauderdale Lakes, the work was done on public property, so it was paid for by the city. But many homeowner associations and golf communities have used SOX, Fischer said. In Palm Beach County, about 40 private communities used it, Fischer said, including Palm Beach Polo Club. In Broward, Cypress Bend in Pompano Beach and Courtyard at Jacaranda in Plantation used SOX, he said.

The option is less expensive than other methods like building seawalls, City Manager Phil Alleyne said.

City officials said they’ve known for years that the 11-mile canal network needed work, but they couldn’t afford to do it all at once. The restoration will continue, with a portion budgeted each year, city officials said. A 2007 study by A.D.A. Engineering estimated that just dredging the canals would cost $10 million.

Alleyne said the most critically eroded canals will be dredged and restored first.

The city has only recently turned around severe financial troubles and nearly paid off a debt it owes for law enforcement services. The canal work will be paid for with a stormwater assessment, Mayor Hazelle Rogers said.

“It is widespread,” Rogers said. “It must be addressed.”