What a great week this has been! Islanders have been able to enjoy the completion of the first segment of the Estero Boulevard renovation. With final paving taking place this week, residents and businesses have been able to enjoy that which they feared would never come – the day when the downtown portion of the project was completed.
So much more than a simple repaving of the boulevard, the project includes new water lines, new sewer lines, a new and innovative center lane stormwater system, the repositioning of utilities, from FPL to Comcast to CenturyLink and the addition of sidewalks on BOTH sides of Estero Blvd.
Many of us on the down-island side of downtown noticed that there were a lot more tourists wandering our way this season thanks to those sidewalks. They wandered into restaurants, pubs and shops, helping take the sting out of the construction blues of decreased revenues when customers struggled to find and get to shops in the construction zone for the past year and a half. No small thanks goes to Islanders who, recognizing that Island businesses were being hurt by construction, made the extra effort to shop local and support those businesses.
The pain of construction in segment one is over. That new asphalt is so smooth it almost makes you want to take up roller-skating, just to fully enjoy the smoothness of it all. Please resist that urge, as we don’t have bike lanes in segment one. Bikes are to share the single lane in each direction with motorized vehicles. Bike lanes will be part of segment two and all segments further down island.
Hopefully the Island’s string of traffic fatality-free years will continue. There is the theory that the barricades and rough pavement helped to slow vehicles down and made drivers more aware of activity around them, including pedestrians and bicycles. If that were the case downtown, we hope drivers keep up the good work and continue to drive distraction-free, watching for pedestrians, bicycles and other vehicles.
Water Heading South
In what seems like another near-miraculous event, the Florida Legislature passed and Governor Rick Scott signed SB-10, designating a 78-billion gallon water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, that will (hopefully) greatly decrease the damage caused by water releases that damage our water quality and sea life any time the lake level gets too high.
Florida Senate President Joe Negron, who represents the Treasure Coast area around the St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon, championed the effort.
“After 20 years of talking, southern storage is finally becoming a reality,” Negron said. “We are well on our way to putting the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the pages of history, instead of the front pages of daily newspapers.”
The effort did not pass untouched by the influence of Big Sugar, who pumped out ads demonizing those wealthy, heartless coastal residents who would take farm jobs away from those poor farmers growing crops south of the lake, mostly on Big Sugar land, of course. They never mentioned that a good portion of that land is part of an agreement signed by U.S, Sugar that willingly agreed to sell it to the state back in 2008. That was then, etc.
The result of that big money influence was the tweaking of the bill that would forbid the use of eminent domain, forcing the state to create the reservoir by using state land or use land swaps to accumulate the land necessary in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
The bill allows the state to bond up to $800 million for the reservoir and expects the federal government to pick up half the cost of the reservoir. So, it’s not a done deal yet, but has cleared a huge hurdle in the Florida Legislature and Governor Scott’s approval.
The whole effort has been a departure of usual reliable alliances. Negron went up against the wishes of his own party and the state’s governor, normally an ally of his, to push this bill. Also aligned against the effort was the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD-pronounced Swif-mud by those without the patience to rattle off the 11-syllable formal name). SFWMD board members, all appointed by Governor Rick Scott, are, like board members of all of Florida’s water districts, long on realtors and lawyers with lots of industry and agricultural connections. By the time Scott leaves office there will be nary an experienced water scientist remaining in any real decision-making role. So, it’s no surprise that they opposed SB 10 along with Scott when it first was proposed.
The bill is not exactly what it started out to be and the reservoir is years off and there may still be some catch that prevents the building of the reservoir and flow of water from reaching the Everglades and Florida Bay. But right now, it sure looks like the voices of South Florida residents affected by Lake Okeechobee releases were heard. For once those campaign donations from Big Sugar were less important than ticking off several million residents and voters.
Let’s call that a win.