With critical stormwater utility decisions on the immediate horizon, the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council held a special stormwater workshop on Friday afternoon, February 17, before roughly 50 residents.
Interim Town Manager James Steele assembled a team of roughly a dozen experts from the Town, Lee County, reFRESH Fort Myers Beach, project consultants and engineers, and other relevant partners to explain stormwater to date in detail and answer Council questions. “We will present the timeline of what has gone on in the past, our work with Lee County, upcoming critical dates, explain the Estero Boulevard outfall design and selection process, and review stormwater financing options and fees.”
Scott Baker, Town Public Works Director, reported that stormwater is a long-term process, with initial decisions back to 2006 and now covering 10 different Councils. In April 2013 the Town selected Mitchell & Stark as the water and stormwater improvements contractor, and in September 2015 adopted the stormwater utility ordinance defining program. In January 2016 it implemented the stormwater monthly utility fee of $19.98, authorized Tetra Tech to design the first four outfalls in Segment 2 from Lovers Lane to Strandview Avenue, and to prepare the Stormwater Utilities Plan.
Subsequent action included approving the Stormwater Facilities Plan in August 2016, the Interlocal Agreement with Lee County for joint outfalls and the Tetra Tech authorization to design the four additional Segment 2 outfalls in December 2016, and the submission of plans to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) for State Revolving Loan Funds (SRF). Scott next reviewed the outfall selection process, with Town and County input, stormwater modeling to determine the number and spacing of the outfalls, location decisions in conjunction with Right-Of-Way limitations, and storm pipe size and basins.
Big Decisions Soon
He previewed crucial upcoming dates: Town staff on March 6, 2017 will present to Council the Mitchell & Stark bid for the first four Segment 2 outfalls, authorization for Tetra Tech to complete the design and submit permit applications for the remaining four Segment 2 outfalls, and allow Tetra Tech to do the 30% stormwater design for the remainder of Estero Island concurrent with the water to save $120,000. Later in the month is the request to complete designs for the remaining four outfalls for FDOT for SRF approval.
In April, Council will receive the Mitchell & Stark bid for the remaining four outfalls; May 1 begins construction for the first four on Bayview, Eucalyptus, Hercules and Jefferson; Construction on the second four outfalls is set for July 1 for Bay, Bay Mar, Connecticut and Donora; Summer 2017 are the Florida Department of Environmental Protection public hearings to approve funding; with outfall selections for Segments 3 & 4 in Summer 2017 and Segments 5 & 6 in Summer 2018.
“Almost every year a Town Council made some decision to go forward with this process,” Baker summarized, “and we will have one of the best roads with utilities in this county when this is all said and done. If we miss any upcoming critical dates, however, we could have a year’s delay and substantial cost to the Town.”
The Interim Town Manager provided the revised cost estimate: “This is similar to the $20.3-million option, but now we supplement the monthly stormwater fee with Gas Tax Funds, lowering the amount the Town needs to finance. This will allow the Town to reduce the monthly fee this September by 8% or $1.60, to $18.38 per month. If we successfully receive grant dollars, this can drop an additional 10%, or another $2.12.” When the Town fully repays the first SRF loan in 2033, it falls to $13.95; when the final loan is done in 2040, it dips to $10.25 for ongoing maintenance.
“Today This Plan is Workable”
“Today this plan is workable,” emphasized the Interim Town Manager, in a rare burst of emotion from the normally unflappable Mr. Steele. “I think this is good, and good news that we don’t have to raise that fee, but can actually lower it. We presented to you a timeline and explained the design and selection of the outfalls; we think we have a great team working together that gets better and better all the time, and with your help we can get there.”
Council member Joanne Shamp expressed concern over the street selection, and would like to see greater use of swales and restricted impervious surfaces: “Can we not do a combination of these two, killing two birds with one stone, to enhance the environment and save money?” She said it was, “disappointing we have to work in this time frame, rather than making comprehensive decisions this month for this community.”
Baker replied that while swales sound great and simple, “they require a lot of land and by the time you scoop them out, they would be about half the road based on models, so you need pipe in the ground in some places.”
Council member Tracey Gore stated that residents on Hercules Drive do not want the outfall but heard it may be a two-year delay to move that location. Project engineer Danny Nelson answered that, like swales, this may sound easy but is not: “We would need a design for the new street, even if it is just one block over, and then Lee County would need to do modifications because it already installed the force main, and would need to drop in a new one. We already have the Army Corp permits and if we need new ones, that is beyond our control with no time frame; remember the Army Corp recently dramatically reduced staff from 12 to 5 employees.”
A Crucial Tool
Mayor Boback said there was not enough public input in selecting the outfall streets, “Some like Donora never flood, not even in hurricanes. Any street that is dry in 24 hours is not a problem. We do not need a 30% design on every street on the island to save $120,000 because we don’t need a design for all streets.” The Public Works Director responded that the 30% design is a crucial tool. “We need data in hand for when modeling begins for hydraulics from Estero Boulevard and the rest of the system.”
Council member Anita Cereceda said, “In my mind I can’t look at any one street without looking at every other street on the island, as this is a completely-connected project. This interconnectivity is super important for us to remember, so all streets are priority streets. I congratulate the Interim Town Manager on the probably thousand hours you spent on this to lower that rate. This demonstrates we are being very careful about how we go about doing this, from the big picture through to the actual plan, so thank you for your work.”
Vice-Mayor Rexann Hosafros concurred, reminding Council “Mr. Steele devoted a great deal of time to stormwater even before he became Interim Town Manager!”
Shamp called Steele’s work “a yeoman’s job – you have done a great job on these finances, being committed to keeping the cost as low as possible. Thanks to you for what you have done and I appreciate it.”
Mayor Boback added, “I agree and already told Jim.”