Rae Burns, Town Environmental Tech


6 Questions Plus 1

Every few weeks, The Island Sand Paper checks in with a community newsmaker and asks them 6 Questions. This week we feature Rae Burns, the Environmental & Stormwater Technician for the Town of Fort Myers Beach for the past 3-1/2 years. This week’s column varies our standard format in two different ways: Rae actually supplied the questions to The Island Sand Paper. We thought our readers would be interested in hearing the most frequently-asked ones she receives from Town residents in the performance of her duties; and there are actually 7 Questions this time around, so please: no letters or emails referring to our mathematical abilities! To contact Rae, call her at Town Hall at 239-765-0202, extension #1312, make an appointment to speak with her in person or drop her an email at Rae@fmbgov.com.

Q1: How big a dock does the Town allow?

You can have a dock up to 25% of the width of your canal. When you hit that mark, you have to rope off your dock and cannot use any more of your property for that purpose. We selected 25% as the maximum amount because when you reach that figure, and your neighbor across the canal uses another 25% for their dock, that leaves 50% of the canal open for boating navigation, so that enough boats can get through, because any figure less than that substantially increases the likelihood of accidents, and that is never a good thing and something we work very hard to avoid!

Q2: Why must I have proper sea turtle-friendly lighting?

Baby sea turtle hatchlings, right after they are born, immediately work their way to the Gulf of Mexico to begin their lives, with the light of the moon reflecting off of the water to safely guide them there. If they see any artificial lights, however, they confuse that for the moon, causing them to walk off in the wrong direction, away from the Gulf, to places that we do not want them to go, like the roadway where they get squashed by cars, or into swimming pools, or trapped by vegetation where they dry out and fry when the sun comes up, so almost all of these bad places result in their death, and dead baby sea turtles are never a good thing! A very simple way to avoid these tragedies is to use turtle-friendly lighting on your property, as the Amber LED lights provide plenty of light for you, but do not attract the baby sea turtles.

To help protect them, the Town is beginning a new Sea Turtle Light program this year! You can purchase sea turtle lights directly from Town Hall by the beginning of turtle nesting season on April 15. We already have our order in and expect the lights to arrive sometime in the next few weeks, with your purchase price exactly the same as the Town’s, so this is not a money-making venture for us, but a convenience for you, as people tell us they are hard to find locally and you do not have to buy them on-line. If you want more information on nesting sea turtles, Tonya Long of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission will make a presentation at the March 18 Town Council Meeting.

Q3: Why does the Town leave Red Algae on the beach?

We do this for a few reasons: Fort Myers Beach is a more natural style of beach, and that is not true of all beach communities, so that being the case, Red Algae is part of the environment’s natural process, and is not toxic nor harmful. It attracts many insects to the seaweed that becomes food for other animals, so it becomes full of nutrients, particularly for migrating nesting shorebirds who travel great distances to come to our area for food and rest. Red Algae also helps to accumulate and retain beach sand, and the more sand on a beach, the better the beach! There are some beaches that allow a great deal of recreational raking, but Fort Myers Beach is not one of those, especially during turtle nesting season, as that can expose baby sea turtle nests to predators and the environment, making these two things incompatible.

Q4: Why does the Town require property owners to get a permit to remove trees?

We are trying to protect as many of the native trees that remain on Fort Myers Beach as possible, as we really do not have a whole lot left, and that is why this policy is in the Land Development Code. We understand that some construction projects require the removal of trees, but by obtaining a permit, this allows Town Staff to review the situation, to maintain an accurate account of how many of our native trees we have, and perhaps even require the homeowner to plant a replacement native species once the work is complete. Of particular importance are Gumbo Limbo trees, known as “Sunburn” or “Tourist” trees because their red pealing barks are like the skin of tourists who spend too much time out in the sun! These are one of my favorite trees and I just love them, along with mangroves, so I am in the right place!

Q5: Why does the Town require site plans for permits?

Without a site plan, it is often difficult for the Town to figure out exactly what you are trying to do and accomplish! My colleagues in the Zoning Department need to see an actual site plan to ascertain your correct boundary lines around your home, for projects like putting up a fence around your property line, as there is no way to know that for sure without a site plan. Look at it this way: if you are a property owner who was putting up a fence, you would want to make sure it was only on your property, or if you were building a garage, that it was in the appropriate setbacks to your property line, if for no other reason than to be a good neighbor to your neighbors, as you would not want them to construct a fence on your land!

Q6: What is a Flood Zone, and why does it matter?

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) establishes flood maps for when storms or hurricanes come through communities, particularly with waves that roll through in designated High Wave Action Zones, and these areas dictate the height of new or substantially renovated construction – to build everything up for safety reasons. On Fort Myers Beach, we have two High Wave Action Zones – Zone VE and Zone AE – but sometime in the near future, FEMA will be updating these zones and maps and will create another one that it will call the Coastal A Zone, to meet our high coastal zone standards, so keep this in mind as you begin to consider any type of building that you may initiate over the next few years and begin to take the appropriate preliminary action now, as I am guessing this will be in place sometime within the next five years. This will definitely happen; I am just now sure exactly when it will occur.

Q7: What is the 50% Rule for buildings and why is that important?

If you want to do significant renovations to your home before the new FEMA maps, the Town allows you to update your home up to 50% of its market value over five years, without raising it to the FEMA elevation standards. There are multiple ways to achieve this 50% standard through the Town permitting process, as Building Codes are currently written, with Town Council approving the permit process, but we now have a new Town Council coming in over the next few weeks, and they will be considering an update to the Codes. If you do exceed the 50% threshold, there are several FEMA Base Flood Elevation (BFE) districts on Fort Myers Beach, so the new elevation can be anywhere from 10 feet up to 17 feet high, so to determine your exact elevation, you need to come into Town Hall, as we are happy to help you, as this type of information can overwhelm people who try to figure things like this out all on their own.

Rae stressed that while these are the seven most often-asked topics, “there are literally hundreds of other things that the Town regulates, so before you do any work in and around your home, please stop in, call, or email me or the appropriate Town employee first! If you do anything around your house without the proper permits and approval, you can be subject to Code Enforcement and daily fines that can add up very quick, and we really do not want that to happen to you, so do yourself a favor, be smart, and contact the Town before you begin any project – we are here to help you and you will be glad that you did!”


By Gary Mooney