When roughly 65 neighbors and residents, council members and council candidates arrived for the latest stormwater update at Town Hall on Friday afternoon, March 3, they had to wonder if they were at an informational gathering or at the largest version of the classic children’s game, “Mousetrap!”
Assembled all across the front of council chambers, using actual full-size stormwater components in a 30-foot-wide layout, to simulate the exact width of Madison Court that undergoes some of the current worst flooding of all of Fort Myers Beach, Town staff brought together ten stormwater experts to discuss that sidestreet as well as stormwater in general for the remainder of the island.
Scott Baker, the Town’s public works director, and Brett Messner, professional engineer and project manager for Tetra Tech Engineering, led most of the session, with assistance from Kaye Molnar, spokesperson from Cella Molnar & Associates. They explained stormwater details such as outfalls, swales versus a closed drainage system, backflow prevention devices; and crucial stormwater design and timeline deadlines.
“We will concentrate today on Madison Court and Hercules Drive, as we receive more questions about these two streets than any others,” explained Baker. “But they are actually excellent examples of almost every sidestreet on Fort Myers Beach, so everybody will be able to relate to the presentation.” In addition to numerous inquiries, thirty-three Madison Court residents presented Council a petition on November 21, 2016, imploring “the Town to address our severe flooding concerns.”
Messner said the full-size display shows “what is actually going on in the ground and how it all works. Madison’s right-of-way is just 30 feet, making it one of the smallest on the island, so this demonstrates how much has to fit into such a tight space. In addition to the actual 20-foot-wide roadway, we must have room for sanitary sewer and stormwater, water, and related utilities like Comcast. The Department of Environmental Protection dictates that new water mains must be at least 6 feet from a sanitary sewer. When we examine a swale for Madison rather than pipes, it would require at least 13 feet, leaving just 17 feet for the road, and that is too small to accommodate it.”
Molnar explained that when sidestreet construction begins, “we ask you to move your car for the day but each street reopens every evening. At some point the projects cross every driveway but access to your home will be back in place each night.”
“I strongly encourage the Town to complete the remainder of the 30% stormwater design for the rest of Fort Myers Beach,” says Messner. “This will provide the Town a master plan to better define its cost estimate to move forward, and the best way, in our professional opinion, to investigate stormwater infrastructure and the feasibility of options on a street-by-street basis, telling us we can maintain or drain without digging it all up! The 30% Plan needs to be done so we can tell you what streets can use swales or pipes for the entire island.”
The Town’s Main Objective
Baker reviewed upcoming crucial dates: “This Monday, March 6, Town staff will request that Council approve the building of the first four outfalls in Segment 2, then later in the month we will ask them to allow Mitchell & Stark Construction to move forward with the final four Segment 2 outfalls, as well as to authorize the 30% Plan and future outfall streets for the remainder of the island.”
When asked what is the Town’s main objective, Baker said “a potable water system for safe drinking consumption and fire protection for Fort Myers Beach, including a brand new water line on every single street.” When an audience member wondered how many trees the Town will cut down to accomplish this, Baker replied, “I love trees! I always try to save them!”
When questioned about the actual cost, Baker replied that “it is $393,000 for the 30% Plan for the rest of the island, with water at $35.1 million and stormwater in the $20 million range. That is what you pay with your $19.98 monthly fee, but if Council approves our recommendations, that will lower to $18.38-per-month on September 5.” As for repercussions to the Estero Boulevard reFRESH Project if Council does not approve Segment 2 outfall work, he thought it would “be very difficult for Lee County to proceed with the project without the outfalls because Estero Boulevard will flood; that is a tough question!” He emphasized that annual and ongoing stormwater maintenance is “crucial, crucial, crucial!”
Finally, when asked how the island survived all these years without a better stormwater system, Baker replied simply: “We flooded!”