The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council discussed three weighty issues at their March 6, 2017, morning Workshop. Under Stormwater Update, public works director Scott Baker and Tetra Tech project manager Brett Messner made the same exact presentation as on Friday, March 3, complete with the full-size layout of all utility details for 30-foot-wide Madison Court that undergoes some of the worst flooding on Fort Myers Beach.
Council member Tracey Gore asked if the Town could proceed with Madison Court repairs even though that is not part of the Lee County scope of work for the reFRESH Estero Boulevard Project, with Messner replying, “It is the Town’s prerogative to move forward with Madison Court and we can absolutely do that.” As for Hercules Drive that does not flood yet must have a joint outfall, Gore said those residents are “basically taking one for the team, as they don’t need this and they love the way Hercules looks, so the Town should replace anything it must remove due to the construction.”
Council member Anita Cereceda replied, “At the risk of irritating Hercules residents, the Town right-of-way does not belong to those individual property owners.” Mayor Dennis Boback agreed, saying “Council needs to set a policy of what we will and will not replace, and not do it on a street-by-street basis so people say ‘you did this for them and not us.’” Gore countered, “The Town right-of-way belongs to the residents of Fort Myers Beach so if they want trees on our right-of-way, we can do that because it belongs to all the people who live here.”
Rae Blake, the Town’s Environmental and Stormwater Technician, discussed the Fort Myers Beach Fertilizer Ordinance. “The Town prohibits nitrogen and phosphorous fertilization from June 1 to September 30 because the heavy rains wash it right off your yard,” she explained. “Since water is so important to our community, you cannot use fertilizer on any impervious surface or waterway, nor can you apply fertilizer within three feet of water adjacent to your property. Commercial applicators must have a Florida Green Industries certification, and can apply fertilizer no more than four times a year.”
In comparing Fort Myers Beach to similar jurisdictions, Sanibel has a 25-foot barrier from water, “but that is probably too much for us, as our properties are so close together,” offered Blake. “I would like to expand ours to 10 feet; I know we have small setbacks but we must protect our water so this would be a smart decision.” She favors a public education component as well, because “most people here are not from Florida so they are not used to Florida weather and soil and landscaping and rain patterns.”
The Timing is Perfect
Mayor Boback requested this as a Workshop Topic because “I want to make landscapers accountable; to have them register with the Town and make their crews watch and sign off on a video so they know our policies.” Council member Joanne Shamp believes a public education element is crucial to the ordinance, and that “the timing for this is perfect, as people are aware of water quality issues more than ever, and because of stormwater, people are paying attention.” Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros said she would like to extend the fertilizer buffer zone to 15 feet with Gore agreeing to either 10 or 15 feet.
Council next analyzed water quality testing and related recommendations from the Marine Resources Task Force (MRTF), with Blake stating “the Back Bay is already tested to death!” MRTF are not proponents of vigorous Gulf testing “because nutrients spread out so quickly, there is not a viable test, but we do advocate emergency testing in cases such as a Lake Okeechobee release. These can be done for $5 to $10 per sample, so it is not expensive to show what we are doing and to turn that raw data into regulations and legislation. We can manage this monthly or quarterly, unless we suffer a ridiculously large outbreak.”
Boback asked the Town Attorney what would happen if the Town advertised safe water, yet someone became ill; Attorney John Turner felt the Town would be legally safe under sovereign immunity.
Shamp “supports everything you said, especially with the stormwater system that in big rain events will send large amounts of fresh water straight into the bay’s salt water through our outfalls, meaning we are a mini-Lake Okeechobee release.” Blake replied, “Testing will tell us how well stormwater works and is influencing the Back Bay, so comparison testing is great.” Gore said she is “looking forward to going forward with water quality testing for our residents and visitors.” Council instructed the Environmental & Stormwater Technician to provide them a proposed annual water testing budget, and initiated steps to pass this as a Resolution.