Last week, on May 23rd, a group of Lee County officials traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with Florida lawmakers about local water quality, flood insurance and transportation issues. The group – County Commissioners Frank Mann and Larry Kiker, County Manager Roger Desjarlais, Natural Resources Director Roland Ottolini and Assistant County Manager Glen Salyer – met with, among others, Representative Curt Clawson, Senator Bill Nelson, Representative Thomas Rooney, Representative Patrick Murphy, the office of Senator Marco Rubio and the Civil Deputy Chief of the Army Corps of Engineers during their three-day stay in the nation’s Capitol. We met with Kiker this week to hear about what happened, and he told us he thought the trip had been a productive one.
Kiker has been to D.C. many times since the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012, in an effort to bail out the National Flood Insurance Project, which set new, exorbitantly high premiums for those living in a flood zone like Fort Myers Beach. A reprieve set by Congress until an affordability study is complete expires in two years.
“First of all, the national flood insurance rates have to be re-authorized in a couple of years,” Kiker said. “Those rates are dependent on an affordability study that it is not done yet, but we don’t agree with how it’s being done since it’s based on flood maps and modeling and not actual data. They also do not allow for local input until after its done – making it too time consuming and too expensive for that input to be effective. A good example of this is Fort Myers Beach – there’s no way we have enough resources and enough money to challenge it.”
“One rather surprising thing we learned when meeting with the top Army Corps group that handles the Everglades projects is that they are well aware of the problems we are facing locally in Southwest Florida,” Kiker said. “These people have a 20-year plan in place to fix our water issues, with the number one concern being safety and the rehabilitation of the Herbert Hoover Dike currently scheduled to be complete in 2024.”
Kiker told us that while repairs to the dike are being made, three intermediate projects are going on – two of them sending more water south and the other being the C-43 Reservoir.
“We told them that it is paramount that the C-43 Reservoir have a water quality component and why,” Kiker said. “Talking to them really puts everything into perspective – they have a series of projects that all need to be done to fix our water problem. All of the projects are dependent on the budget they are given, which is dependent on the current federal administration.”
The commissioner told us that Nelson and Clawson are also very aware of what’s happening with our water, and told the local group how important it is to work with other counties to help them keep focused on the situation and to get as much done locally as possible.
In Lee County, those projects include $316 million spent on the purchase of 25,000 acres of Conservation 20/20 land; $60 million in estimated expenditures over the next 15 years for state-mandated Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) compliance; $96 million over the last five years toward stormwater activities and $12.2 planned for future projects.
“We also asked the Corps people if they’d like to visit our area for a communication seminar, and they seemed amenable to the idea,” Kiker said.
“Right now, Congress is voting on all aspects of transportation funding, we are asking them to prioritize the available funds with the number one priority being aimed at high-growth areas and the second at local communities who have stepped up with their own funds,” Kiker said. “This is tremendous for us, because we’ve raised a lot of money for transportation without raising taxes using growth-implemented funding. In the last 14 months, we’ve been able to fund $170 million in projects and by next year we are hoping to get matching funding with our process – the federal legislators seem to approve of establishing a leveraged investment methodology.”
In summary, Commissioner Kiker says it’s amazing just how much can be accomplished by determined local lawmakers.
“In just two sessions, in Tallahassee – we got our representation on the Tourist Development Council (TDC) changed to more fairly represent the beach, in Washington we pushed to get the first WRDA passed in seven years, and now we are focusing on transportation,” he said. “I think we’re making great progress.”
Keri Hendry Weeg