The Florida Coastline Canal, from Jacksonville to Miami, has been a matter of concern not only to the people of the east coast of Florida, but also to the executive and legislative branches of the State Government for many years. The canal that existed prior to the creation of the Florida Inland Navigation District in 1927 was constructed by the Florida Coast Line Canal and Transportation Company, which received Letters Patent under the Laws of Florida on May 23, 1881. The canal then contemplated by the Company was one connecting the Matanzas River with the Indian River. By subsequent resolution filed with the Secretary of State on June 27, 1882, by the Canal Company, the scope of the project was extended to connect the navigable waters of the St. Johns River at the mouth of Pablo Creek through the Matanzas and the Indian Rivers through Lake Worth with the waters of Biscayne Bay. By the same resolution the charter was construed to contemplate a canal allowing the passage of vessels drawing three feet of water or less.
By Chapter 3995, Acts of 1889, the Legislature declared that canals and waterways of the Canal Company should be not less than fifty feet wide and not less than five feet deep at mean low water, for the entire distance between the St. Johns River and Biscayne Bay, and should be so maintained by the Company. Approximately a million acres of public lands were granted by the State to the Company to aid in effecting the purposes for which it was formed. The work was begun in 1883 and finally completed in 1912. (See the report of P. B. Elliott, State drainage Engineer, on Florida Coastline Canals, filed with the Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund, January 4, 1915).
The total cost of the canal to October 1, 1914, approximated $3,500,000 and the aggregate amount received from land sales approximated $1,400,000. The remaining $2,000,000 or thereabouts, of the cost was provided by the Company from other sources. Tolls were charged on the canal.
The completion of the canal did not solve the problem of inland water transportation from Jacksonville to Miami, even to the extent that a canal of the minimum width of fifty feet and a minimum depth of five feet at mean low water could solve it. There was the difficult task of maintaining the minimum depth. Like most pioneers, the Canal Company had its troubles. Default was made in the terms of a trust deed or mortgage securing an issue of bonds and covering the canal property, and at the instance of the Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company, as trustees, the trust deed or mortgage was foreclosed in the Circuit Court of St. Johns County, Florida, and the property sold on September 3, 1923, to satisfy a debt of $937,931.31 to Florida Canal and Transportation Company. The growth and development of the east coast of Florida had brought about during the past twenty years or more a general demand for adequate inland water transportation. Repeatedly during that period attempts had been made by public bodies to induce the federal government under some terms and circumstances to provide that inland transportation either by the so-called coastal route, via: by the canal along the east coast, or by the so-called St. Johns River route via Sanford then to Titusville - thence by the coastal route to Miami.
Finally a survey of the two projects was ordered by the River and Harbors Act of Congress approved June 5, 1920. After an investigation running over more than six years, a voluminous report upon that survey was made by the Secretary of War to Congress, December 14, 1926. The contents of the report are summed up in a brief letter directed by the Chief of Engineers of the U.S. Army to the Secretary of War, wherein he summarized the benefits to accrue to the inhabitants of the east coast of Florida, including a saving on transportation charges, under improved conditions, of an amount estimated variously from $400,000 per year to $1,600,000 per year. He also pointed out the importance of completing this great length of the inland waterway extending between New England and Key West. He concluded his report by declaring that an inland waterway in general seventy-five feet wide and eight feet deep at mean low water, following the coastal route from Jacksonville to Miami, was deemed advisable at an estimated cost of $4,220,000 and with $125,000 annually for maintenance, and recommended the approval of that project subject to the following conditions:
(a) That local interests shall acquire the necessary rights-of-way and the privately owned waterway known as Florida East Coast Canal and transfer them free of cost to the United States, and
(b) That local interests shall furnish suitable areas for deposit of dredged materials in connection with the work and its subsequent maintenance.
The River and Harbor Act, approved January 21, 1927, authorized the establishment and maintenance of an inland waterway in general seventy-five feet wide and eight feet deep at mean low water, following the coastal route from Jacksonville, Florida, and subject to the conditions set forth above.
And so the construction and maintenance of an inland waterway fifty percent wider and sixty percent deeper than was ever contemplated by any State legislative enactment or contractual undertaking was assured to the people of Florida, subject to the conditions requiring support by local interests. And the new and greater canal would be toll-free. And thus, in order to bring about the construction of the canal and the maintenance thereof by the federal government, there remained for the people of the east coast of Florida only to comply with the conditions imposed by Congress.
And it was to fulfill these conditions that the Florida Inland Navigation District was created by the Florida Legislature at its Session in 1927, by Chapter 12026. This Act authorized the Navigation District to purchase the existing Coast Line Canal for a price of not more than $800,000 and convey it free of cost to the United States and authorized it to issue bonds to enable it to perform the other conditions imposed upon local interests by the Act of Congress.
The District purchased the canal at a price of $750,000 plus accrued interest to date of closing of $26,266.66, a total cost of $776,266.66.
At an election in the eleven counties of the District, the voters authorized a bond issue of $1,887,000 to pay the purchase price of the Coast Line Canal and Transportation Company and to purchase the rights-of-way and spoil areas needed by the United States for the enlargement and improvement of the waterway. However, the Navigation District used only $850,000 of these bonds, and the remaining $1,037,000 thereof were subsequently canceled and destroyed by the District. All of these acts of the Navigation District occurred prior to 1931 when the Act creating the District was amended and reenacted by the State Legislature by Chapter 14723, Special Acts of 1931.
This 1931 Act placed upon the Navigation District the duty and responsibility of performing the conditions imposed on local interests by the Acts of Congress authorizing the improvement of the waterway, as amended by the River and Harbor Act approved July 3, 1930, which increased the width of the waterway from seventy-five feet to one hundred feet. The amount to be paid by the District for rights of-way and spoil disposal areas was limited to $1,037,000, the amount of the bonds which had been previously destroyed. The taxing power of the District was limited to 1 mill.
In 1935, by Chapter 17020, the Legislature authorized the District to expend funds for publicizing the completion of the waterway and its availability to watercraft and to print and distribute information regarding the waterway and to promote its use in navigation by watercraft of all kinds.
In 1939, by Chapter 19122, the Legislature authorized and empowered the District to collect, compile and furnish to the United States data, statistics and other appropriate information as to the advantages, benefits, desirability and usefulness of the further improvement of the waterway from Jacksonville to Miami and authorized and empowered the District to acquire and convey to the United States, free of cost, any lands, easements, rights-of-way and spoil disposal areas as might be required by the United States for the improvement of the waterway to a depth of twelve feet and a width appropriate to such depth.
The Navigation District consists of the twelve counties along the east coast of Florida from Nassau to Miami-Dade, both inclusive. However, an important link of the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida is that from the St. Marys River on the Georgia-Florida line to the St. Johns River in Duval County, and traversing Nassau County. The waterway from Trenton, New Jersey, to the St. Marys River was twelve feet in depth and the United States desired to deepen it to the same depth from the St. Marys River to the St. Johns River, but upon the same conditions that local interests should provide the necessary rights-of-way, spoil disposal areas, etc. as were placed upon the Navigation District for the improvement of the waterway from Jacksonville to Miami. However, there was no local agency authorized by law or willing to perform these conditions to obtain the improvement, so in 1941, the Legislature by Chapter 20430 authorized and empowered the Navigation District to do this. Subsequently, the Navigation District has acquired and conveyed these areas to the United States and has furnished the necessary rights-of-way and the United States has deepened and improved the waterway from the St. Marys River to the St. Johns River near Jacksonville to a depth of twelve feet and a width of one hundred twenty-five feet.
For several years, the United States had been considering the deepening of the Intracoastal Waterway from Jacksonville to Miami to a depth of twelve feet, to correspond with the depth from Jacksonville to Trenton, New Jersey. In 1942, however, the project was unfavorably reported to the Board of Engineers. The Navigation District appealed from that report and succeeded, ultimately, in obtaining a favorable report, which is now incorporated in the River and Harbor Bill which was submitted to the Congress of the United States in January, 1944, authorizing an expenditure of $11,788,000 to improve the waterway from Jacksonville to Miami, and an additional expenditure of $1,830,000 to deepen likewise the waterway from Miami to Key West.
The principal function of the Navigation District has been to furnish to the United States that necessary cooperation which the United States requires as a condition precedent to its improvement of the waterway. A partnership exists between the United States and the State of Florida, acting by and through the Navigation District whereby the United States agrees to construct and maintain the Intracoastal Waterway and the Navigation District agrees to furnish to it, free of cost, the necessary rights-of-way and areas for the deposit of dredged material in connection with the subsequent maintenance of the canal. The nature of the land through which the waterway runs is such that shoaling occurs, requiring repeated dredging to provide the minimum channel. So long as the United States does the work necessary to maintain the waterway to the depth of ten feet or twelve feet, just so long will it be necessary for local interests, acting through the Navigation District, or some other similar agency, to provide rights-of-way and spoil disposal areas. When local interests discontinue doing their part of the work, then we may expect the United States to discontinue its part.
The 1965 Legislature enacted Chapter 65-900, Laws of Florida which established the taxing power of the District at 0.1 mill and directed the Commissioners from each of the eleven counties be appointed by the Governor in lieu of the former requirement for local election of Commissioners.
By 1965 the United States had completed the project from Jacksonville to Fort Pierce, Florida, to the authorized depth of twelve feet and the project width of one hundred twenty-five feet. From Fort Pierce to Miami, Florida, the project has been completed to a depth of ten feet for the full project width of one hundred twenty-five feet.
In 1977, the U.S. Congress appropriated sufficient funds for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to undertake an economic feasibility study of the costs and benefits to be derived from deepening the channel from 10 feet to 12 feet from Fort Pierce to Miami. This study revealed the costs of deepening the channel two feet would exceed the benefits. In view of these findings the Navigation District Board of Commissioners decided that until circumstances change, further study on deepening the Waterway would be inappropriate.
During the early 1980's it became apparent to the District and the Army Corps of Engineers that the inventory of existing spoil disposal sites did not meet the current or future maintenance needs of the waterway. The majority of the existing spoil sites were found to be unusable because of their environmental sensitivity or their small size. The Florida Inland Navigation District through coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Environmental Regulation and the Department of National Resources formulated a plan for a pilot study to determine the spoil disposal needs of the waterway in Nassau and Duval Counties for the next fifty years and to provide a permanent infrastructure of sites to manage this material for potential reuse.
The firm of Taylor Engineering was hired in 1986 to perform this Phase I study. The study was completed in September of 1986 and resulted in the identification of 7 parcels of property to be acquired. These parcels along with one existing site will be able to manage all material dredged from this 38 mile stretch of waterway during the next 50 years. Phase II of this project has led to the acquisition of these parcels and the engineering, geo-technical studies, environmental analysis and boundary surveys of all sites.
The District then committed to evaluating and updating our inventory of dredged material management sites throughout the waterway to meet 50 year dredging needs. A comprehensive plan was developed to perform these additional studies and implement the necessary land acquisitions over a fifteen year period. To date, in addition to Nassau and Duval Counties, Phase I Long Range Dredged Material Management studies have been completed in St. Johns, Flagler, Volusia, Brevard, Martin and Palm Beach County. These studies have identified 47 sites to manage approximately 41.5 million cubic yards of dredged material from 282 miles of waterway channel during the next 50 years. This includes 21.5 million cubic yards of material to be placed on six beach areas to serve as feeder beaches on the Atlantic Coast.
Phase II studies and land acquisition are now completed in Nassau, Duval, Flagler, Brevard, Martin and Palm Beach counties. Three sites have been constructed and several more are in different stages of construction of site preparation. Phase I Long Range Dredged Material Management Studies are currently underway in Indian River and St. Lucie counties. The entire waterway study project will be completed by the year 2000.
The 1985 Florida Legislature reviewed the functions of the inland navigation districts and enacted Chapter 85-200 which recognized the continuing need for inland navigation districts and re-authorized the districts until 1990. This legislation also recognized "the continuing need for inland navigation districts to undertake programs necessary to accomplish the purposes of construction, maintenance, and operation of Florida's inland waterways". This amendment to Chapter 374 Florida Statutes created the District's Assistance Programs through which the District assists state, regional and local governments within the District with waterway improvement projects. These projects fall in the general categories of navigation, waterway access facilities, boating safety, recreation and environmental education. Since 1986 the District has participated in 290 projects contributing $32.3 million in District assistance funding to provide $97.7 million in waterway improvements and benefits.
In 1990 the Florida Legislature reviewed the inland navigation districts functions and determined again that the districts were "fulfilling an important and essential role in the management of their respective waterways". The districts were re-authorized for an additional five years and their duties were expanded to include the installation of boat speed regulatory signage for the protection of manatees. Since 1990 the District has accomplished the largest in-water signage project in the history of the state. The District has installed approximately 2500 signs to denote the boat speed zones for manatee protection. As a result, the number of manatees killed by a collision with a vessel within the District has been reduced by approximately 40%.
As a result of the manatee protection effort the District increased the distribution of free waterway information to vessel operators. The District now publishes 26 waterway brochures and manuals covering topics such as boat speed zones, bridge regulations, waterway guides, hurricane preparedness, channel conditions and spoil island usage. The District also distributes brochures produced by others covering boating and fishing regulations. In 1995 the District distributed approximately 300,000 free brochures and manuals.
In 1995 the Florida Legislature reviewed the functions of the District for the final time and found that the "District should be continued indefinitely". Included in this legislation was a provision designating the District as the "local navigation sponsor" for the Okeechobee Waterway in Martin County. The District will now be responsible for providing dredged material management areas for this waterway channel that connects the east and west coast Intracoastal Waterways.
The 1995 legislation also requires District commissioners to be confirmed by the Senate after their appointment by the Governor.
Looking to the future - With the cut backs in all federal programs the District is being forced to increase our commitment to the implementation of our Long Range Dredged Material Management Program. The District is assisting our federal partner in the Phase I development of the permanent sites and in the construction of the largest site in the system. As the land acquisition program winds down the development and management program will increase. The District is also proceeding with a Geographical Information System to integrate our expanding data resources with our extensive mapping resources. District assistance to governments for waterway improvement projects and programs is expected to increase as state and federal funding sources decline. Projects with navigation partners will be important in the future to maintain navigation throughout the District's waterways. The manatee sign program has shifted into a maintenance and minor modification program. The District's public information program will continue to increase in importance as the number of vessels in the District approaches one million.
A History of Florida's East Coast Canal (by William G. Crawford, Jr.)
History of Island Estates and the Surrounding Waterways