Trucks hauling sand for a massive Collier County beach renourishment project are headed for a detour through a Lee County courtroom.
Neighborhoods and businesses along Corkscrew Road are asking a judge to grant an emergency injunction to force Collier County to either reroute truck traffic to Alico Road or run the trucks only between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The lawsuit, which was filed Friday and amended to add plaintiffs Monday, argues that the trucks carrying sand from an Immokalee mine to Vanderbilt, Park Shore and Naples beaches are a safety hazard and will cause gridlock.
Word of the court action came as Collier County ramped up the $9.5 million project Wednesday, opening a second beach drop-off point for more trucks at the Horizon Way beach access in Park Shore. Crews began working Monday at Vanderbilt Beach.
Homeowners in Grandezza, Bella Terra and Wildcat Run; a BP gas station, Miromar Outlets shopping mall and the Miromar Design Center are named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“The reason we had to take this step was because nothing was happening,” Miromar Outlets vice president Jeff Staner said. “We are very serious about the safety of this roadway, the residents and our customers.”
The sand convoy route takes trucks past neighborhoods with more than 4,300 residents, an elementary school and several school bus stops.
Corkscrew Road has an average daily traffic volume of some 10,000 vehicles, about 11 percent of which are trucks, according to the lawsuit.
In the past three years, Lee County has recorded 57 crashes, 7 percent of which involved trucks, and emergency medical staff have responded to 87 emergency calls, the lawsuit says.
Collier County wants to run up to 400 trucks per day down Corkscrew Road to Interstate 75 and then south to Collier beaches between now and February.
Lee and Collier officials have been talking about a compromise on the truck routes, but no agreement had been reached by Wednesday afternoon.
Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker said he was not surprised by the lawsuit and said he expects discontent with the Corkscrew Road truck traffic to escalate daily.
“These people clearly have every intention of protecting their communities,” Kiker said. “They’re not going to be happy people.”
Collier County would not comment on the pending litigation, but Naples Mayor John Sorey said the injunction request is on shaky legal ground.
“We’ll see them in court,” Sorey said.
Collier Commissioner Fred Coyle, whose district includes the city of Naples, said he understands why Corkscrew Road neighbors would file the lawsuit but that moving the trucks would only move the problem. Money has been the main sticking point in the truck route controversy with Collier officials estimating it could cost between $400,000 and $700,000 to change routes.
“We just can’t rationalize spending the kind of money people are asking us to spend just to keep the traffic out of their neighborhood,” Coyle said.
Collier County resorted to the truck haul after getting only one bid from an offshore dredger to do the job for $32 million, more than twice the county’s budget for the work.
The Corkscrew Road lawsuit comes on the heels of Lee County filing its own petition with the state Department of Environmental Protection for an administrative hearing on the environmental permit for the beach project. The DEP has not acted on the petition.
In a letter Monday to Lee County’s attorneys, an attorney for Collier County says the Lee petition is “factually inaccurate” and was filed for an “improper purpose.”
The letter threatens to go after Lee County for millions of dollars in damages if the petition delays the Collier beach project.
The arrival of trucks on Naples beaches Wednesday did not trigger the same sort of reaction the trucks have gotten in Lee County.
“It is what it is,” Horizon House condominium resident Brooke Cobb, 69, said. “You’re going to have to live with it.”
Naples police say vandals tore down plastic construction fence and barricades and threw them into the Gulf of Mexico the night before the project was to get started Wednesday.
Otherwise, work on Naples beaches is getting off to a slower start than planned, with between 75 and 80 truckloads of sand being dumped Wednesday on Park Shore beach, Sorey said. Plans call for 120 truckloads per day.
Project managers had planned for a third sand drop-off point at Third Avenue North to be open Wednesday but it might not be ready for trucks until week’s end. Sorey said trucks might not start rolling there until Monday.