A Little Help From Our Friends
The adage that it takes three good men to replace one great woman came to life at the Friends of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library Annual Meeting on January 17.
The main program was a reFRESH Estero Boulevard update with Kaye Molnar, president of Cella Molnar & Associates, spokesperson for the projects. Betty Simpson, the Friends president, however, explained to the roughly 85 people that Kaye was unfortunately under the weather, “but she sent us her Number One team” of Jim Molnar from TY Lin, the Segment 1 engineer; Rob Phelan from the Lee County Department of Transportation and Darren Brown, the Chris-Tel Construction Manager.
Jim began an ill-fated PowerPoint to detail the two concurrent projects of the Town of Fort Myers Beach replacing water lines, with Lee County rebuilding Estero Boulevard, but the crowd interrupted with questions early and often.
An audience member asked why there is an inverted crown in the new section of Estero Boulevard, rather than the traditional raised one that cycles water to curbside drains. Jim admits “this design is a little unconventional but the Estero Boulevard right-of-way in the Downtown is only 50 feet, with at least 20 utility fiberoptics and conduits that would require moving, and that could take at least a year or two before we could begin any other work. In addition to this, each side of Estero Boulevard is not level, so we would have to build everything up to achieve a common grade. The simplest and best solution was to direct water to the middle into a drainage pipe.”
Water – We Do Something About It
Jim said that to keep water from ponding in the road, they used pervious pavers with quarter-inch gaps on all sides to allow it to percolate through several feet of stone to a hollowed-out center pipe that carries the now cleaner liquid to outfalls for discharge into the back bay. Rob Phelan added, “The Town is gaining improved water quality that it does not now have to preserve the back bay – everyone complains about water so we do something about it.”
Another asked about beach sand clogging the center drainage system. Jim replied that this system tests well in various contingencies, with recommended cleaning as necessary, but he does not expect this to occur often, as “sand is very porous so water percolates well through it. If the island soil were clay, this would be a poor choice.”
A resident inquired about replacing the Segment 1 pavers that is currently underway. Jim explained, “In the first application, the pavers settled too deep and we had to provide better support with compacted rock that still drains water. This is in some ways, a trial and error process and we believe we’ve corrected the issue.” He reminded the audience that pavers are on the center left-turn lane and as such, will not carry a heavier traffic demand once the project is complete.
Chris Tel’s Darren Brown added, “We learned a lot of lessons, and have a separate crew installing the new pavers so we do not slow the project. So far the replacement is working.” Lee County’s Rob Phelan added, “If there were a better option to pavers we would move ahead with that, as we do not take this lightly. We constantly evaluate and reevaluate with each section.”
Based on the questions asked, there seems to be a perception there is little construction in front of the Red Coconut RV Park due to political favoritism, but all three speakers refuted this, saying much of the work there is already done with underground utilities. One man asked why work is not continuous in a lineal fashion rather than in an interrupted pattern. Jim explained this is necessary to do the work in manageable sections to move traffic, maintain two open lanes and a pedestrian walkway in a tight 50-foot right of way, and that these are two large-scale projects occurring at the same time.
Don’t Freak Out!
Chris Tel’s Brown appreciates the frustration of island residents. “This is long and difficult, with many components and partners. We fell behind a bit this summer when utilities shifted crews to other areas of the nation to assist in hurricane relief, and Comcast had a work moratorium during the entire Summer Olympics that affected everyone. The Town and Lee County work together to accelerate the projects as much as possible; we are not doing this willy-nilly, guessing as we go, and we understand the affect this has on residents, businesses and tourists.”
Lee County’s Rob Phelan reported Segment 1 will be complete by the end of March, with roadway bids for Segment 2 set to be opened on Tuesday, January 31, to begin after Easter. Segment 2 will last 14 to 18 months, with estimated completion in Fall 2018. Segment 3 from Strandview Avenue to Albatross Street should commence then through early 2020, leaving only Segment 4 from Albatross to the southern tip of Estero Island.
He said initial Segment 2 work would be sanitary sewer force main and the Town’s water installation, with the roadway to start in May, after Easter and Season. “Because of construction constraints, we do not know where it will initiate – it may be right in the middle of the zone so if you see that, don’t freak out!”
Near the conclusion, Jim showed an overhead shot of a beautiful new road with wide sidewalks, and asked if the people would like to see a project like this. When all agreed they would, he surprised many by informing them this was an overhead shot of Estero Boulevard in a completed section of Segment 1!
A woman informed the group that every time she contacts Cella Molnar and Associates with a question, they always respond promptly, and she and the speakers encouraged anyone with questions about the project to contact Cella Molnar via the website www.reFRESHFMBeach.com, phone at 239-337-1071 or 877-496-1076 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The last gentleman to speak ended the program by saying, “All things considered, you guys are doing a great job,” with most of the audience providing hearty applause.