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Seawalls In SWFL Damaged In Irma's Wake

Quincy J. Walters
A damaged sewall along a canal that leads to the Caloosahatcee River.

Hurricane Irma significantly damaged some Southwest Florida seawalls, the concrete structures that prevent water from coming on land. U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida came to Fort Myers to survey the crumbling seawall Wednesday. 

In a neighborhood off of McGregor Blvd., the backyards of homes are Caloosahatchee River. The seawalls along this canal have been damaged after Hurricane Irma.

Seawalls can be made out of vinyl or rocks, but in this neighborhood, the seawall is concrete.

Homeowner Howard Wheeler says his seawall fared well in the storm, but his neighbors weren't so lucky. Wheeler said all of the seawalls in one given area are connected and when fails, it has a domino effect on its neighbors.

“From this one spot you can see that neighbor’s seawall kicked out at the bottom," said Wheeler, pointing to his neighbor's seawall that's caving in. "That neighbor’s seawall collapsed from the center blown out. And this neighbor’s seawall, the actual panels broke at the bottom.”

Wheeler’s lived at this house with the seawall for nearly 12 years. He said he's never seen anything like it.

“Even Hurricane Charlie, we had water about a foot over the wall ... No damage to these walls during Hurricane Charlie.”

Sen. Bill Nelson was there to observe the collapsing seawalls.

“The good news for damage like this is that the homeowners can apply for assistance," Nelson said. "It may be in the form of a loan. Or it may be direct assistance because of remediation, so that you do things like seawalls so that you don’t have a problem in the future.”

Credit Quincy J. Walters / WGCU News
Homeowner Howard Wheeler (l) speaks with Sen. Bill Nelson (r) about his concerns of the seawalls in the neighborhood.

Sen. Nelson said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should help local governments.

Cape Coral Mayor Marni Sawicki said she hasn't heard from FEMA. With 400 miles of canals in the city, Sawicki said Cape Coral needs the help.

“I had heard it could cost up to $50,000 to replace your dock and your seawall," she said. "So, we‘re looking for funding ways. How do we fix this? You can’t let one person fix theirs and not the next.”

Brent Stokes is the owner of Stokes Marine, a Lee County company specializing in docks and seawalls. He said it might cost $500 to $700 a foot to replace a seawall, depending on obstacles like docks, decks, pools, and landscaping.

Stokes said Irma caused damage to seawalls that he’s never seen before either.

“There’s never been a storm that’s done to the seawalls what this one’s done," Stokes said. "Andrew, Katrina. You name it”

Stokes said he hopes the building codes of seawalls will change after Hurricane Irma. Sen. Nelson agreed.