On Monday afternoon, Interim Town Manager Jim Steele and three members of the engineering firm Tetra-Tech presented the recently completed Stormwater Facilities Plan to Town Council and asked for their direction moving forward.
At the beginning of the presentation Steele explained that the Stormwater Facilities Plan is required by the State Revolving Fund to obtain funding for stormwater improvements, should Council decide to do any.
Tetra-Tech’s Danny Nelson briefly discussed the history of the utility, saying the Town inherited an outdated and limited stormwater system when it incorporated in 1995.
“In 2008, the firm CDM-Smith was asked to create a Stormwater Master Plan (SMP), but that plan was not island-wide,” he said. “After the Town created its Stormwater Utility in September of 2015, they agreed to the initial fee of $19.95/ERU to cover the debt from the improvements made to the neighborhoods in Phase I, the Operation & Maintenance (O&M) of the current system and the cost of the Facilities Plan.”
“The Facilities Plan is to be done to determine the most cost effective, environmentally sound solution to the problem, and the document being submitted to the town is actually a ‘hybrid’ plan that can also be used in the master planning.”
Nelson said that Tetra Tech has discovered that only 26% of the island’s roadways are currently being maintained for stormwater, that 83% of the outfalls are in poor shape, and that 76% of the flow that Lee County is planning to treat with it’s Estero Boulevard reconstruction project actually comes from Town Right of Way (ROW).
“I mention this because if Council is considering a ‘No Action’ option, you need to know that the county will need to account for that: they fully expect, if water flow is coming from the Town’s side streets, that the Town will provide some cost-share,” Nelson said.
Gore asked if this information came from the County’s engineer, and Nelson replied no, it came from Tetra Tech.
“The options we are presenting to you are Action or No Action,” he said. “The ‘No Action’ option does include Operation & Maintenance for the current system, and the replacement of failing components – an estimated $6,800,000. This represents the lowest initial capital cost, but flooding will continue, and the County will ask for funding to handle the flow to the upgrades they make. Also, since the Town has already completed upgrades for 25% of the island, we expect that residents with no improvements will complain.”
As far as the Action option, the disadvantage is that it will cost more initially – estimated at $34.4 million – but there will be a credit back to the Town when the cost-share with the county is determined.”
After the meeting, Steele explained this further – saying that, while the Facilities Plan offers only the two options, as the Town moves forward there will be many different ways to go about it.
“This is island-wide, but some streets need a lot of work and some need very little – they are not all the same,” he said. “Also, we can delay implementation on some of the side streets, and that $34 million estimate will come down once we get an idea of what the cost-share with the county will be.”
Steele said that the next step would be to determine a funding mechanism so the Town can stay ahead of the county’s road project.
“They (County) just received 60% plans for the next phase of road construction, so we’d like to bring forward the next phase of potable water and stormwater,” he said. “I think this is a critical project – we need to do something, otherwise the flooding will continue. We’re going to have to work with the county and meet and discuss the sharing of outfalls (large pipes running from Estero to the ends of side streets that collect debris to prevent it from washing into the back bay).”
Council member Rexann Hosafros asked why North Estero Phase II couldn’t be deferred in an effort to stay ahead of the county and address the Town’s worst streets faster.
“The original plan was to continue working side streets north to south as we worked Estero Boulevard,” said Nelson.
Gore asked if the county has adopted any stormwater plan yet, and Tetra Tech Project Manager Brett Messner replied that they are waiting on the Town.
Council member Anita Cereceda said she is definitely on board with ‘Action’, saying she’d like to discuss how much will get done at a future date. Hosafros agreed, saying the stormwater situation on Curlew Street is bad.
Cereceda pointed out that a big part of this is about water quality.
“If we’re not taking care of our own water, we’re hypocrites when we complain about Lake Okeechobee,” she said. Public Works Director Scott Baker pointed out that the town is treating the water on every street that’s been improved, and Messner said components would be considered on a street-by-street basis.
Gore asked about having a referendum for stormwater, and Cereceda asked Steele for his opinion on that.
“If we did one, that would delay the project considerably, we wouldn’t be ahead of the county, and we’d end up in a mess,” Steele said.
Mayor Dennis Boback said that – should the town go to referendum and slow the project down, the county may stop its road project and not return.
Gore asked what the County’s cost of all this is.
“As residents, we pay the county already,” she said. “I just don’t want to see the residents get hit hard with something we could negotiate down.”
Baker said that the county has agreed to pay for its share of the impact, and Steele said that part of what residents pay the county is being spent now on the road reconstruction project.
“They moved us in front of a lot of projects that they could be doing instead,” he said. “I think we need to make some kind of plan to move forward, then figure out what streets we need. The end audience for this is to go to the DEP for funding, so you don’t want to go in there with the lowest level. The Facilities Plan is basically your shopping wish list – you can show them what you’re planning for.”
Steele said he would be part of the group of 8 or 10 who will meet with the county to determine what the cost-sharing will be.
“This will come before Council again at their meeting on August 1st,” he said. “While we won’t know about DEP funding by then, I will have tweaked this and we will have a better understanding of what the Town’s costs will be.”
Consensus was reached to go with the ‘Action’ option.
The last part of the presentation concerned changes Tetra Tech had been asked to do to the Stormwater Fee Credit and Adjustment Policy.
“The way the ordinance is set up now is kind of wide open, so my role is to come up with a formal methodology so that credits are being applied consistently and in the same manner,” said Tetra-Tech’s Andy Woodcock. “I wanted to make sure we incorporate decisions that have already been made.”
Steele asked if the ordinance would need to be amended to match what Tetra Tech recommends, and Town Attorney Dawn Lehnert said that ordinance is being clarified based on these and will return to Council at a meeting ‘following the break’.
Woodcock said that three categories have been created for credit: Evaluation of impervious areas, implementation of best management practices (BMP) and properties that do not impact the Town’s stormwater system.
“For the evaluation of impervious area, we require that a professional provide us the information for commercial properties, but so single family residences can save money they will just need to provide a 2-scale sketch that shows dimensions so we can do an accurate field visit and adjust the ERU accordingly,” he said.
For BMP’s, Woodcock explained that the credit will be determined by the amount of runoff retained on-site.
“This refers to things like rain gardens, rain barrels,” he said. “We developed this curve that tries to let us encompass almost all of the types of projects that are out there and includes up to 100% credit. However, things like ponds and rain gardens need to be maintained, so we ask that every 5 years the credit application will need to be renewed and the city re-inspect.”
Woodcock concluded by saying that – no matter which category – documentation would need to be submitted.
Gore asked about vacant lots, and Scott said that is part of a base fee that staff will be returning to council with.
In regards to a hardship, Steele said that no one has applied for one yet.
“We do still have some renters on the beach, who may not own the property but who pay the water bill on it,” Gore said. “What if they have 3 or 4 kids and they can’t afford an extra $30 or whatever.”
Boback agreed that is something that needs to be explored.
Keri Hendry Weeg