The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council returned from their summer break on Monday morning, August 14, tackling a long list of items in a meeting that lasted over 5 hours. The Town’s stormwater system, a potential ban on plastic straws on the beach and its Medical Marijuana dispensary moratorium highlighted the agenda.
Lee County and Tetra Tech representatives provided an in-depth review of the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects, with upcoming timelines. The construction of the first four Segment 2 outfalls begins in September on Eucalyptus Court; Council will receive the request to build the final four Segment 2 outfalls in early September; will receive initial projections for the eight Segment 3 outfalls for Summer 2018; review the final 7 outfalls for the balance of the island in Segment 4; and Council will see the completed 30% Design Plan in October. In addition, the Town will have a list of 15 “Hot Streets” it can address to solve flooding issues that totals $7.5 million.
“I am not one to call anyone out on this,” Council Member Anita Cereceda tersely stated, “and it will not change my opinion on stormwater, but when I approved the 30% Plan, I did so thinking we would have it for today.”
“I agree,” said Council Member Joanne Shamp. “I need to see it to make decisions on other phases. You say we need 7 more outfalls, yet that does not match up with the contract I voted on. This is my ‘A-ha moment’! Of the 15 ‘Hot Streets,’ only two are joint outfalls, so I don’t get why the people of Fort Myers Beach now pay 96% of these street improvements moving forward, so I do not see this as a cooperative agreement with Lee County, and am no longer comfortable in financially moving forward, so I have a lot of concerns and need to see the 30% Plan. I am a huge environmental supporter, but it is our fiscal responsibility to move this forward, but I cannot approve anything until those cards are on the table.”
Cereceda encouraged the engineers to “work 24/7 on that 30% Plan. We have decisions to make soon or we backlog the project 6 months, so that information is instrumental.” “The 30% Plan is essential,” said Vice Mayor Tracey Gore. “It is irresponsible to move further and spend the people’s money without knowing where we are going.”
The Last Straw
Under Public Hearings, Council considered the First Reading to ban plastic straws on Fort Myers Beach. “Our beach and the Gulf suffer greatly from plastic pollution that endangers animals and humans,” stated Shamp. “It is our responsibility to do what we do can to maintain the environment. Let’s get this done and be tough on it.” “I hope people don’t miss the point here,” added Cereceda. “I don’t see us stopping at straws but eventually all plastic on the beach.” “I agree,” said the Gore: “No plastic at all.”
“There are all kinds of micro-digestibles in the Gulf,” Shamp explained, “that gets into fish and then people, so I refuse to get concerned about the cost of compostable straws that are best for the environment; we have to get out this message.” “We are not banning anything,” noted Cereceda, “but are trying to accomplish this, as a barrier island that is sensitive to anything that protects the environment, and that is what we are trying to do.” “This is the first step,” said Mayor Dennis Boback, “leading up to Styrofoam cups and coolers.” Once Shamp added the verbiage, “to add to the water quality and marine life of the Gulf of Mexico,” Council unanimously passed the proposed ordinance on to its Second Reading on September 7.
Under the Town Attorney report, co-counsel John Turner advised that the Florida Legislature passed initial legislation to regulate Medical Marijuana centers and dispensaries, with additional amendments yet to come. It increased Medical Marijuana centers from 10 to 17, with each having up to 25 distribution locations based on population, so there will be over 400 statewide, and he asked Council how to proceed before the Legislature meets again.
Boback would like to make the moratorium permanent. Shamp agreed, but is aware that Medical Marijuana is now legal, and can see it being distributed through existing beach pharmacies, “so I know the value in that but not in a free-standing Medical Marijuana facility.” He said he does not see much distinction between medical and recreational marijuana.
“You can go to any quack in this town to get a prescription for anything,” Boback said. Council Member Bruce Butcher reminded his colleagues that “Florida voters passed Medical Marijuana with 71% of the vote, and it passed with a majority on Fort Myers Beach, so this goes against the will of the people.”
“I find this whole topic terribly intriguing,” said Cereceda! “I find the bigger picture tragic that we spend a lot of time talking about Medical Marijuana when any CVS Pharmacy sells OxyContin that kills people. I think it is a big smokescreen, with all puns intended, and this State will soon legalize marijuana, and I am not opposed to it. I spearheaded the effort to keep drug paraphernalia off Fort Myers Beach, but five years from now that will not make a difference.”
In other matters, Council unanimously approved the First Reading of a newsrack ordinance, adding several amendments before the Second Reading on September 7; unanimously approved Steve Johnson for an opening on the Marine Resources Task Force, turned down a lien fine reduction request 4 to 1, with Cereceda Against and unanimously approved an Administrative Code for new construction permits.
Council covered two other topics of interest. It assigned the Anchorage Advisory Committee to investigate whether alternative boat toilets can discharge sewage directly into the back bay, and voted unanimously not to enter into any negotiations to contract paid parking outside of Town boundaries. This occurred when Council discovered that Town representatives investigated for over a year possibly leasing space for paid parking under the Matanzas Pass Bridge on San Carlos Island (SCI).
SCI Parking is Capital D – Dead
“This is the first I heard this,” said Cereceda. “It is a lousy idea and we should kill it.”
“I just learned of it as well,” said Gore.
“I am a little perturbed and would like to kill it, too.” “This is not in our jurisdiction and I won’t do it,” said Shamp. “I am concerned about the report, as there was a lot of time spent on this, with a survey done and an outside consultant’s report. I want this Dead, Dead, Dead, with a capital D.”
“I agree with that,” said the Boback.
“Going forward, we need to be informed of these projects,” said Gore. “A year and a half is too long, with taxpayer money, without receiving any approval. This is most sincerely dead, San Carlos Island!”
Council meets again on Monday, August 21, in Town Hall at 9 a.m. They will hold Management and Planning meetings on Tuesday, August 22 at 9 a.m. and Thursday, August 24 at 9 a.m.