Beach Chamber Hosts Commissioner
Last Thursday, County Commissioner Larry Kiker was the guest speaker at the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce monthly membership luncheon at Charley’s Boat House where he touched on many hot-button items including Estero Boulevard reconstruction, Lake Okeechobee releases and dredging.
Kiker began by giving credit to Mayor Dennis Boback – who was mayor in 2006 – for helping to get the Estero Boulevard project started, saying the process has been a long one.
“As mayor, I learned how to deal with the county,” he said. “They have a thing called a 5-year CIP, which means you have to get on the radar 5 years before you’re legally able to spend money on a project. So Estero Boulevard started when I was Mayor – right after Dennis (Boback) – and we’ve been working on it ever since. As County Commissioner I was able to help get the project funded 100% because I was able to work with the four other mayors in Lee County and convince them that this project was the #1 in the county – it’s called teamwork.”
The commissioner explained how the project was originally slated to take 12 years, a time frame that has now been honed to seven years or possibly five.
“At first, we were able to fund the project every 1 1/2 years, which means we pull all equipment out, leave, go to design and then come back,” he said. “This Board heard you when you asked us to speed it up, and we have financed it so it will be a continuous project.”
One person asked what the Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) is going to do about the releases from Lake O.
“The county commission has no say-so in what happens to that water – the only thing we can offer is our support in being a lobbyist, and ideas,” Kiker replied. “This is a federal/state project – so when you’re talking about who’s going to buy land going south, you’re talking about state money. We’ve been talking about water quality for a long, long time. We have sat with the Army Corps of Engineers; they’re very tuned in to what’s happening in this county.”
Kiker said the most important thing happening with water right now is that Congress is currently meeting to discuss how to fund all those projects.
“At the county level, we’ve got $97 million in stormwater management projects, the fertilizer ordinance, Conservation 20/20 – we are invested,” he said. “But for the most part, when you talk about Lake O, we’ve been successful going around the state and seeking support but we need to go to Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and those folks and ask them to vote for it.”
Kiker then commented that the county is a $2 billion business that needs to come up with a new way of doing business – otherwise “we will be left behind”.
“You’ve got things like San Carlos Island, Corkscrew Road, all these different places where you have these big developments coming and there is no process to handle what it is they want to do,” he said. “The way we’re set up right now is – project by project – a developer can come in and they can qualify. Legally, then we have to let them do their business – it’s their property. So what happens if you get seven or eight of them in one place? What’s the cumulative pressure on the environment, traffic, etc? We legally don’t have a way to challenge them or interact with them in a public manner. We have to change the way we look at business and the way we do it.”
Speaking on behalf of the West Coast Inland Navigational District, a board on which Kiker serves as Chair, the commissioner announced that the final permit for the dredging of Big Carlos Pass had been granted and that the WCIND also has a plan in place to fund the removal of derelict boats in the back bay.
Chamber Chair Dave Anderson pointed out that this past season has been painful for FMB businesses and asked what businesses should do.
Kiker said that the first segment of Estero Boulevard will be done before season starts, and two lanes will be open throughout the second segment.
“You have people who have been working on issues locally for a long time,” he said. “You’re going to have to choose who you want to follow – people like Roger (Desjarlais) and myself who are going to D.C. and fighting for you, or someone who tells people not to come here. At some point in time you need to stand up for yourself, for your business, speak up. Latch on to the positive things that are going on.”
Keri Hendry Weeg