Representatives of the Town of Fort Myers Beach and Tetra Tech, authors of the Town’s Stormwater Facilities Plan, conducted a public information forum regarding its proposed amendments. The primary purpose of the meeting was to provide an explanation of the changes to the Stormwater Utility Ordinance 16-04, and to answer questions pertaining to its provisions as they apply to the entire town. Roughly 30 citizens attended the session.
The facilities plan is an inventory of existing stormwater facilities, service area characteristics, and environmental conditions; establishes design needs for the planning period; identifies and evaluates stormwater system alternatives; recommends the most cost-effective, environmentally sound facilities to meet the planning needs; describes in detail the recommended facilities and their cost; presents a schedule of implementation of the recommended facilities; identifies any adverse environmental impacts and proposes mitigating measures; and outlines the financial feasibility of the facilities plan.
It identified the following problem areas during the high rain event of January 15, when 2.59 inches of rain fell in 24 hours: Lauder Street & Dundee Road, Lauder & Lanark Avenue, Indian Bayou Drive, Shell Mound Boulevard, Jefferson Street, Bahia Via, Donora Boulevard, Sterling Avenue & Lazy Way, Sterling Avenue & Seminole Way, Eucalyptus Court, Driftwood Lane, Bay Road, Bayland Road, Madison Court, Curlew Street, Egret Street, Ibis Street, Gulf Island Drive, Connecticut Street, Bay Mar Drive, Andre Mar Drive, Lenell Road, Flamingo Drive, Lagoon Road & Buccaneer Drive, Old San Carlos Boulevard, and Crescent Street & 3rd Street.
Dawn Lehnert, legal counsel for the Town, said it must bring its older stormwater system up to standards, and Council decided to establish a stormwater district utility user monthly fee of $19.95 for a single resident home to meet the Town’s Level of Service goals and reduce nuisance flooding throughout its right-of-way. Exemptions are possible, with Town Council making those final determinations.
Jim Steele, Interim Town Manager, laid out the user fee options for the $30.2 million estimated stormwater system: The primary one would increase the current $19.98 in March 2017 up to $33.37 from 2020 through 2031 before finally falling in September 2032 to $25.49. These figures do not account for any potential grant funding or Lee County cost sharing.
Pete Yeatman of the Bay Beach community said the Town’s premise that the stormwater system would benefit all Fort Myers Beach residents is incorrect. Bay Beach already has its own independent system and will take measures to prevent the Town from enacting this ordinance. He emphasized that Bay Beach is not looking for a free ride at the expense of its neighbors, but it already paid for their own stormwater system over the prior 30 years, pointing out that most island residents cannot make the same financial claim.
George Repetti of the Island’s Inn Condo Association noted that Town promises concerning this plan are empty because by the time he receives his first user fee reduction, “I will be 106-years-old!” He wondered who would he or more likely his grandchildren, hold accountable for the promises made by the current Council to ensure residents receive the 61% price reduction in the year 2039, as no one today will be present here 23 years from now.
Dan Hughes, former Local Planning Agency and Town Council member, as well as Fort Myers Beach mayor from 2000 to 2004, called the ordinance the worst he has yet to see in his life. He believes the Town cannot implement this as a user fee but can as an assessment because you cannot use the former category to finance a capital improvement. The Town should only assess those who will directly benefit from the stormwater system, calling the current proposal an “inherent unfairness.” He encouraged representatives to reexamine the entire process and to charge only those in affected zones rather than everyone across the board.
Lehnert stated that Council’s opinion is even if your neighborhood has its own independent stormwater system, all residents benefit from the Town’s, even if it is miniscule, like driving down a dry Estero Boulevard.
Frank Willis concurred, saying proper stormwater maintenance is a quality of life issue that benefits all island residents, providing clean water as well as a deterrence to standing water and related mosquito issues.
Judy Haataja believes that most of Fort Myers Beach is a self-draining island, meaning the system in unnecessary except for isolated areas, and asked the Town to further investigate this issue with an eye toward a more natural and environmentally-friendly system at a significant cost saving. Leon Moyer called the ordinance “very incomplete” and is skeptical the Town will seek cheaper and environmentally-friendly options when it implements the user fee because “once government gets money, it tends to spend money!”
Town staff will report on the public comments and refer the ordinance to Town Council for its final determination.