Hurricane Delays Initial Outfall Construction

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Irma Meets reFRESH Estero

The reFRESH Estero Boulevard Projects have overcome a great many obstacles – its multi-million-dollar price tag, reluctant Town Councils, ongoing debate over stormwater costs, an unwieldy initial timeline – yet nothing stopped its progress. Hurricane Irma, however, may just be The Gal to bring it to a temporary halt!

“We were to start the outfalls on Eucalyptus Court and perhaps even Jefferson Street this week,” said Kaye Molnar of Cella Molnar & Associates, spokesperson for the projects. “But, like everything else in Southwest Florida, due to the threat of Hurricane Irma and the State of Emergency declared by Governor Rick Scott, we will not start anything new until we know the end result. Until then, like everyone else, we are taking storm precautions.”

Kaye explains that “crews are working through whatever is necessary to make the construction zones safe, whether we receive a direct hit or passing blow. We are restructuring work areas to move or remove construction barrels and anything else that could be a danger or flying projectile. Some barrels are still necessary to protect drivers and pedestrians from essential spots, but anything else we can move, we will move.”

She points out that Fort Myers Beach may see an unintended benefit from the Projects, should Irma bring significant damage to the island: “Crews are leaving all their heavy construction equipment, like front end loaders, should we need those to clear roads and debris. If damage is minimal, we hope to continue normal construction next week; if it is more severe, we are right there, ready to assist. We went through something like this during another construction project with Hurricane Charley and that was a great help, but we certainly hope we don’t need to duplicate that here.”

A unique problem for the beach may be a significant storm surge. “While we are thrilled the nearly-complete Segment 1 handled all the water from our record rains of two weeks ago,” Kaye offers, “there is no amount of drainage that can handle a surge that inundates the island, such as with Hurricane Harvey in Houston. None of us, of course, has undergone a Category 5 storm, so we are all in unchartered water, so to speak! We will prepare as best we can for any eventuality.”

Stay Ahead of The Game

Town Council has a regularly-scheduled meeting Thursday evening, September 7. Town staff have indicated that the meeting will be shortened as much as possible due to weather concerns, so what will discussed versus what will be postponed is unknown. On that original agenda is approving the design and permitting for the final 4 outfalls in Segment 2, on Bay Road, Bay Mar Drive, Donora Road, and Hercules Drive. “The design team learned from the first four outfalls that permitting from the Army Corps of Engineers can take up to 9 months,” she states. “To stay ahead of the game, we need to complete the eight total outfalls in Segment 2, as we cannot finish the Estero Boulevard roadway until they are in place, and each one takes roughly 12 weeks to construct, including building the baffle boxes that help remove pollutants from the stormwater. We were looking forward to beginning outfall construction this week, but now we will revise that schedule as necessary.”

As for its specific segments, Kaye relates that the remaining Segment 1 work, from the Matanzas Pass Bridge to roughly the Red Coconut RV Park, “is down to punch list items. There sadly remains some issues with brick pavers that require replacement, but fortunately this has no impact on the drainage that is functioning perfectly.”

Segment 2 preparation continues for major construction from Lovers Lane to Voorhis Street. Roadway work will start on the northbound lane on the bay side, move to the center, then finish on the south lane. “If there is any good news in a possible delay from Irma,” Kaye rationalized, “it is that the concrete wall in this stretch will not return now for another 5 to 6 weeks, and perhaps longer if there is a great deal of clean-up, but the significant drop in elevation between lanes will eventually necessitate its return. Due to the unknown nature of the hurricane, however, there is no way I can now make any prediction about when we will be able to return to business as usual.”

In Segment 3, from Dakota to Aberdeen Avenues, crews are clearing right-of-way on both the beach and bay sides, though Kaye explains that “there is a five-foot section along the beach side that we must leave alone until the relocation of a few power poles. We will try the best we can to save any trees, especially the large ones. Residents told us repeatedly how much they love their trees, so we endeavor to keep as many as possible.” For details or email updates, see www.reFRESHFMBeach.com or contact Cella Molnar & Associates, Inc., at 239-337-1071, 877-496-1076, or kmolnar@cella.cc.

 

Gary Mooney