Michael Kohl is the past and soon to be current Commander of the San Carlos Bay Sail and Power Squadron, and he also happens to be my friend. I’ve written about Michael and his boat, a 34 foot, 1986 Albin Family Trawler (An Albin Adventure, February 2023 issue.) We were headed to his boat at the dock that Diversified Yacht Services marina shares with Doc Ford’s after lunch with his fellow squadron members recently. Earlier, Mike had fueled up at the Cape Coral Yacht Club, but their pumpout station wasn’t operating. When Mike learned that Diversified also had no pumpout service, he just shook his head.
“I can’t find a pumpout anywhere,” Mike said. “Marina’s make enough money pumping fuel that they should also be able to pump out holding tanks. The Legislature should pass a law requiring any marina that sells fuel to empty holding tanks as well.” Then, he turned to me and said “you ought to write a story about that.” I get that a lot. But this time I thought that maybe he was on to something.
It’s no surprise that Hurricane Ian left millions of gallons of spilled wastewater-some it really bad wastewater-in its wake; but what you might not know is that the infrastructure providing boaters with a safe and approved method for removing the waste from their holding tanks still hasn’t recovered.
“We don’t even have our fuel docks operating yet,” said one dockmaster in Lee County. “Just from a revenue standpoint, our priorities are getting the revenue producers back on line first. We get $5 for a pump out, so you can see how our priorities have to be addressed.”
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has oversight of all pumpout locations; and their “Clean Vessel Act Pumpout Location Map” lists 28 sites available in Lee County, (https://floridadep.gov/rcp/cval). I could find just three of those locations that are currently operational. There are no pumpout stations listed on the DEP website for Pine Island or Sanibel. I found one on Sanibel not mentioned on DEP’s site, the Sanibel Marina. They told me they have not yet reopened their fuel or pumpout station.
I called the two stations DEP listed for Captiva Island-McCarthy’s Marina and Cottages and South Seas Island Resort. DEP had the telephone number for McCarthy’s on their pumpout map wrong. When I finally reached them, Captiva Cruises, which operates out of the marina, answered the phone. They said their marina has no pumpout station, but they partner with with South Seas Marina to pump their boats’ holding tanks.
South Seas Marina told me their pumpout station was broken, and they hoped to have it up and running by Christmas. But not for you. It’s only available for their guests; but they did say they would revisit opening it to the public at some point. Tween Waters Marina is also not listed on DEP’s pumpout station map, but they said their pump out services are operational, and it’s complimentary with fuel purchases. I’m told the marina is a bit shallow for larger boats, so you might want to call ahead. Cape Coral Yacht Club? The Landings Marina? Gulf Harbor? The Fort Myers Yacht Basin? Nope. Nope. Nope. And nope.
The DEP map lists several pump out options on the northern tip of Fort Myers Beach, but most, like Salty Sam’s, have not gotten them back on line. Sanibel Harbor Marina, next to the Marriott in Punta Rassa, only offers the service to their guests. Moss Marine’s pump out station near the Matanzas Bridge was broken when I called, but it should be back operating by the time you read this.
Holding tanks with untreated sewage can be legally discharged beyond three miles from shore on the Atlantic Coast, but you need to travel nine miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s not really a good idea, though, and I’d hate to guess how many boaters are willing to make the long trip to flush their toilets on our west coast.
I called and emailed DEP several times over a three-week period to get more information for this story. They promised a response, but never did. This isn’t the first time I’ve been ghosted by DEP while researching a story. Maybe they are too busy to talk to me. And you.
Enter the City of Fort Myers Beach to come to the rescue.
“We own our own pump out vessel through a DEP Clean Vessel Act grant, and it’s still operating,” said Chadd Chustz, the City’s Environmental Project Manager. The boat operates out of the Matanzas Inn Marina, and is managed by their Harbormaster, Austin Gilchrist. It’s primary duty was to service the many boats anchored to the many mooring balls in Matanzas Pass, and surrounding waters like the Back Bay, but with the pumpout shortage, they have broadened their mission. Under the City’s management, the Matanzas Inn also provides laundry and shower facilities for liveaboards and other mooring customers. “We lease them from the Inn until we can find our own facilities to offer the public,” Chadd explained.
“Most of the waterways around us are designated Aquatic Preserves and ‘Outstanding Florida Waters,’ Chutz explained. “We try to make it as easy as possible to get a pump out, and limit the number of illegal discharges. We want to remove that barrier to safely and legally emptying their holding tanks; but we do work with the Lee County Sheriff's Office to identify moored boats not getting pumpouts, and make sure they’re not just dumping their tanks.” That task isn’t easy. It’s hard for law enforcement to cite boat owners making illegal discharges unless they are there when it happens.
Only 13 mooring balls remain in the aftermath of Ian, and dredging disruptions, and channel realignment issues have added to the problem. Chadd said they are working with the County to replace 70 balls east of the Matanzas Pass Bridge. Supply chain permitting is underway for construction of the mooring balls, and they hope to have them in place by the end of the year.
The number to call to schedule a pump out is 239-225-5096. It’s also posted on mooring signs throughout the area. The cost? Just five bucks. You can thank government grants, and the City of Fort Myers for the benefit; and save your offshore trips for fishing and recreation. Tell Austin I said hello. He’s a great guy.
Bob Moro - Ft. Myers Power Squadron