The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council received a substantial update on the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects from Lee County personnel, along with a review of the proposed Bicycle & Pedestrian Master Plan and On & Off-Site Construction Staging at its lengthy Management & Planning Session beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday, October 5.
“We coordinate the next phase of the Estero Boulevard construction with joint outfall delivery schedules,” explained Rob Phelan, P.E., the Senior Engineer and Project Manager for Lee County Department of Transportation. “That is why unfortunately it seems like there is nothing going on right now. We had to wait until we received the outfall permits from the United States Army Corps of Engineers.”
An outfall is a pipe that carries stormwater from Estero Boulevard out to the back bay; with the term “joint” because the Town and Lee County copay for them, with the Town responsible for 80% of the cost. “We will soon start to work on the Eucalyptus Court joint outfall,” Phelan explained. “We provided special consideration for the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District so that they have alternative routes to get out on Donora Boulevard and Voorhis Street. This will require removing the fire station emergency signal.” “Permanently?” asked Council member Anita Cereceda. “That depends on the Fire Department,” Phelan replied.
Vice Mayor Tracey Gore asked if there were an outfall construction schedule. “It will be Eucalyptus, followed by Jefferson Street, Donora Boulevard and Bay Road,” explained Darin Nelson, Construction Project Manager for Chris-Tel Construction. “Unfortunately,” added Phelan, “we will use the concrete barrier wall, due to the depth of excavation necessary to construct the center drainage lane.” Gore asked for a construction time estimate to complete Segment 2, from Lovers Lane to Strandview Avenue near Publix Supermarket, and Phelan responded, “14 months for the roadway work.”
Force main installation is already underway in Segment 3, from Strandview to Albatross Street. “We learned in Segment 2 to get force main out of the way first,” Phelan explained, “so the water main can come in right behind it, allowing us to maintain two-lane traffic. We are staking the right-of-way to Albatross, and are asking people to remove anything they wish to keep, with everyone receiving this notification.”
“Crews have already removed some right-of-way items before the homeowner had the opportunity,” said Council member Joanne Shamp. “We got a little excited and went too far,” admitted Nelson. “We try to make this as smooth as we can but it is a difficult process for everyone,” agreed Phelan, “with bumps and issues all along; it is not that you will not have issues, but in how you solve those along the way.”
It’s All In The Numbers!
Phelan expects to have final construction plans from Strandview to Albatross by April 2018, “as it is important to identify the Phase 3 joint outfall locations to keep this ball moving forward. The Town now has the 30% Design Plan, so hopefully you feel comfortable moving forward on schedule.” “The more outfalls you need, the more it costs the Town, so that is important to keep in mind,” stated Gore. “That is why it is important to have the outfall locations,” said Phelan, “but we don’t know those yet – it’s all in the numbers!”
“When can we expect that conversation?” asked Shamp. “Before we approve any further outfalls, it is essential those discussions are underway. We need to know the answers before we move forward, and what is the cost to our Town and our taxpayers who are paying for this, as we are accountable to them. Just moving down the island and spending 2 or 3 or 5 or 6 or 7 times the projection is not fiscally responsible!” “If we have delays,” counseled Phelan, “construction will stop until we solve all the problems, and this will escalate the cost to the Town over the waterline project. We are still studying that segment, but that will not be complete until the end of the year, so we don’t have the engineering information yet to finalize this.”
Ending positively, Phelan stated he “received a text on the night Hurricane Irma struck Fort Myers Beach, that Segment 1 of Estero Boulevard was completely dry! Everything performed as expected, and it took less than a day to clean out the system. When you compare Segment 1 to anywhere else on the island, it is impressive!”
A Vision For The Town
Discussing the proposed Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan, “There are lots of good reasons to do this,” said Ned Baier, project manager of The Jacobs Engineering Group that the Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) hired to oversee the process. “Once Council adopts this plan, you will have a vision for the Town you can implement for years. These things won’t happen immediately, but you have a guide to determine priorities, including funding costs and existing conditions.”
The Town’s Project Advisory Committee conducted three public meetings and two public workshops to develop the proposal. “Fort Myers Beach is already a walking community,” explained Baier. “7% are walkers, with another 4% regular bikers, for 11%; compare that to Cape Coral at less than 1%. Throw in that the Fort Myers/Cape Coral area that includes Fort Myers Beach is the most dangerous place to walk or bike in the nation, and you can see the importance of this plan.”
Hard & Fast Rules
Council’s On and Off Site Construction Staging discussion began with the introduction of Jason Green from Weiler Construction, who the Town will utilize on a contract basis to replace Kara Stewart, who submitted her resignation earlier this year and left as director of Community Development on September 30. “I reviewed your previous suggestions with fresh eyes,” he said. “I do suggest creating a specific section in the Land Development Code for construction staging, as you have to pull current regulations from about ten different sections. Sometimes vague is good but not if you need specific tools.” “Make it a separate area in the Code,” agreed Mayor Dennis Boback, “so you are not looking all over the place for it.” “Put it all together,” added Council member Bruce Butcher, “rather than having to hunt and peck for it.”
Gore said that the Town should also regulate construction crew parking: “People like to have everyone working all at the same time but with the lack of parking, you just can’t have them all there at the same time, so you will just have to wait.” “The issue is that Fort Myers Beach was built out over the last 30 years,” Cereceda said. “We are now into redevelopment and that changes what has been done here before, with guidelines and parameters as opposed to hard and fast rules.”
Following this, Council heard Town department reports from Beach Water, Community Development, Cultural Resources, Parks & Recreation, and Public Works. It then set its agenda for the next Management & Planning Session on Thursday, November 9, with short-term rentals, Stormwater Ordinance and the 30% Stormwater Plan for discussion. Council determined that it will schedule two monthly Management & Planning Sessions in 2018, to stay on-course with its aggressive agenda, before adjourning at 1:18 p.m.