A Tale of Two Towns
With homage to Charles Dickens’ literary classic, “A Tale of Two Cities,” Fort Myers Beach appears to be a Tale of Two Towns, if the reaction of the roughly 30 audience members at the Estero Island Taxpayer Association (EITA) meeting to the community’s controversial stormwater system proposal is any indication.
Beverly Milligan, EITA organizer and co-owner of Myerside Resort on Fort Myers Beach, hoped the session “helps demystify stormwater, and you come away with facts from the actual stakeholders who oversee the work.” She introduced Danny Nelson from Tetra Tech consulting engineers, who explained the stormwater project to date.
The Town inherited the 1950s stormwater system with its 1995 incorporation. In 2008 it commissioned a stormwater master plan, and in 2015 Council imposed the Stormwater Utility Fee to collect $19.98 monthly and hired consultants to analyze an estimated protect cost. Last December the Town signed an Interlocal Agreement with Lee County committing to 8 outfalls. At Monday’s Council meeting, however, it voted 3 to 2 to not fund the Supplemental Task Authorization to allow Tetra Tech to complete 30% of preliminary stormwater plans for the remaining island side streets. The current system it properly maintains only 26% of side streets, with the remainder nonexistent, undersized or failing.
Nelson said “water quality is rapidly becoming a huge state and national issue, and should the Federal government mandate such a system due to the health of the (Estero) bay water, the Town will not enjoy the luxury of making these improvements itself, but the government will force Fort Myers Beach to implement them. Hopefully Council will reconsider so stormwater moves forward while still under their control. If the Town can still do stormwater at the same time it does water improvement, costs will be significantly lower and you will not need to rip up the side streets twice.”
Man of Steele
Fort Myers Beach Interim Town Manager James Steele explained the funding behind his recommended $20.3 million stormwater system that combines swales with pipes in the ground. The Town will access three long-term State Revolving Loans for $16.8 million, while raising $3.5 million from its monthly stormwater fee, for $20.3 million. The monthly fee remains the same through September 2020, when it increases $1-a-month, then another 50 cents-a-month in 2021 and another 50 cents monthly in 2022 to $21.98. It remains there until the Town pays off the initial loan in 2032 and drops to $14.98. When the final loan is done in 2040 it dips to $11.90-a-month for on-going maintenance.
Jim emphasized this estimate does not contain any grant dollars that are a strong possibility to assist the Town in funding stormwater, and that can lower the monthly fee, as some grants will pay 25 to 75 percent of these projects.
Charlie Eck of the Estero Bay Improvement Association was the last speaker: “There are a lot of stormwater misperceptions. It is expensive and coming down on us like a load of bricks. We are on our 3rd Council facing this issue, and will have a 4th coming up and this is getting old! We finally have a Town Manager who gets it, yet rarely do they ask him anything and he know more than most, and now he is leaving. Be proactive and put the system in now because federal regulations will force the Town to do it. This pits neighbor versus neighbor and it must stop. Determine what the right system will cost and get on with it. We don’t need this Keystone Kops approach of constantly being six months behind – let’s get real about the process.”
Who Are Those People?
Frank Wilusz said, “I am a voter, homeowner and taxpayer and I attend practically every Council meeting on stormwater. Some Council members think they are such experts so they don’t listen to their experts and taxpayers. I try to ask them about stormwater but all they say is ‘voters don’t want to pay for this,’ but who are those people?”
The residents attending the EITA meeting seemed unfazed about paying roughly $22-a-month for an effective stormwater system, even after they calculated the $20.3 million option would cost each homeowner over that timespan a total of $6,600.
It seemed an awkward evening for the Town staff and consultants, who appeared to disagree with the recent decisions and opinions of their Town Council bosses, whose majority apparently holds the opposite viewpoint. The heat must seem less to the Interim Town Manager, however, who will retire in the near future if Council can ever determine a format to select his permanent replacement.
The next EITA meeting will be Monday, February 20, at the Fort Myers Beach Women’s Club at 175 Sterling Avenue when it hosts Council candidates from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.