Editorial: 1-28-16

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Public Hearings – Fire & Water

Next week brings a couple of Public Hearings whose outcome will affect your bank account and quality of life on the beach, making them worthy of your attention.

Stormwater Hearing

Water infrastructure comes in three varieties: potable water, sewer and stormwater. Our potable water comes from Lee County. The water lines that deliver that potable water to our homes and businesses are in the process of being replaced through the Town’s Waterline project, being done in conjunction with the County’s Estero Blvd project. Our sewer lines are also being replaced along Estero Blvd during that project.

That leaves stormwater – the rainwater that flows off our roofs, driveways, streets and any other hard impervious surface. It also runs off yards because the soil can’t absorb it as fast as it falls. As it drains from those surfaces, it collects pollutants – fertilizer, oil, sediment, litter, etc. Without an effective stormwater system, those pollutants flow directly into our Gulf and bay. Nobody wants that.

On Monday, February 1, 2016 at 2:00 pm, Town Council will hold a Public Hearing on the Stormwater Utility Fee. The utility framework was approved last year. Now it’s time to fund it.

As if Mother Nature knew our community was considering this issue, she’s sent us some serious downpours over the past few weeks to remind us of the need to address stormwater runoff. Anyone who has driven more than a couple blocks on Fort Myers Beach after a rain has seen the problems we have with stormwater.

Our roads flood, our sidewalks are impassable, traffic swerves into the middle of the road in several areas to avoid the standing water at the edges. All because our community lacks a comprehensive and effective plan to manage stormwater.

Estero Boulevard stormwater drainage is being addressed during Lee County’s road improvement project. The side roads and Estero north of the bridge belong to the Town. The North Estero stormwater system was completed when the Town rebuilt the road. The Town has already spent $2 million on stormwater efforts, primarily on North Estero.

This can has been kicked down the road for years. Like many of our infrastructure problems, our stormwater issues existed when the Town was incorporated and have only become worse with age.

Whatever currently exists to manage stormwater on much of our island, ditches, drains, culverts or swales, is not well maintained and is to all intents and purposes, ineffective.

It’s time to do something, but what?

Should we focus on the worst problem areas? Should we take a long view and plan to address the entire island? Should we ignore it and hope it goes away if we clean a few culverts out?

The existing system needs attention now and a major inspection, cleaning and maintenance effort should be planned and funded. The $2 million stormwater debt needs to be addressed now also. Knowing that there are several areas of the island that desperately need stormwater work, it’s safe to say that funds are needed now to begin that work.

Let’s not kick this can anymore – let’s address the stormwater problem and begin to solve it. Do we know for sure that all streets need a major redo of their stormwater system? No, and we won’t until we complete a complete island evaluation and cleaning of the existing system. In a perfect world, that would have been done years ago.

But we don’t live there, we live here, where our streets flood every single time it rains and we continue to dump polluted stormwater into our Gulf and bay. That has to stop.

Fire Safety Hearing

Right now, commercial establishments like restaurants, hotels and businesses are subject to fire inspections. So are condos and any housing with 3 or more units. Who is not? One and two family homes, including those that are rented to vacationers. People on vacation do not usually enter their vacation property and look for emergency exits or a fire extinguisher or whether the smoke detector works or even if there is one. They presume they’re renting a safe place for their family to stay on vacation. That assumption is not necessarily true. Our local Fire District is taking steps to fix that.

On Tuesday, February 2, 2016 at 10:00am the Fire Board of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District will hold a Public Hearing at Fire Station 31, 3043 Estero Blvd to consider Fire Safety Ordinance 2016-01. This ordinance provides for the registration and inspection of non-owner occupied two family homes and transient, vacation, short term and timeshare rentals.

Considering that we are a vacation community and thousands visit us yearly, staying in a variety of housing, it makes sense that our community do what it can to assure visitors that they are staying in safe lodgings that meet minimal fire safety standards.

The requirements are not onerous – they are common sense. Let’s make our island safer for everybody.

Missy Layfield