Local Fort Myers Beach business leaders arranged a meeting Wednesday night at Town Hall for business owners and residents with Mayor Anita Cereceda, Fort Myers Beach Town Hall staff and Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker to discuss their concerns with the Estero Blvd redevelopment project.
The purpose, according to Bud Nocera, the President of the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce and Al Durrett of Santini Marina Plaza & Fish Tale Marina, was for locals to share their concerns regarding the impact of the construction on their lives and businesses.
Mayor Anita Cereceda went around Town Hall Chambers and allowed every individual to express their comments about the current state of the construction, and how it was affecting their business or lives, while Commissioner Kiker, Cereceda and other Town officials listened. Contact information of attendees was collected to enable follow-up reporting of efforts and outcomes.
The theme of those who spoke was consistent: traffic is not moving, commuting times are unpredictable, customers are cancelling appointments and reservations, daily visitors are saying they won’t be back until all the work is done, flagmen who previously assisted motorists and pedestrians in crossing Estero Blvd, were missing and daily construction set-up and tear-down times seemed to result in too short of a work day for crews, slowing progress.
Implications of all the above were that businesses were suffering from declines, worried about being able to survive and viewed the current scenario as being worse that the BP Oil Spill of 2010. Non-business attendees shared a serious concern for decline in quality of life, feeling trapped and concerns for a decline in the value of their homes as a result of this disruption from utility construction. Further comments indicated that not only were newer businesses in the community suffering but also 2nd generation family businesses were facing financial jeopardy.
Most attending also echoed the belief that night construction, even if only during season, might be a satisfactory short-term solution to a project that admittedly will be a huge long-term improvement for the Island. Business owners commented that they would rather deal with any night construction noise than the status quo of traffic jams. While the current project scope is basically from Crescent Street to Lovers Lane, residents and business owners from the entire island attended, understanding that future phases of the project will be headed their way in coming years and indicated they want modifications as to how the work is being done.
Cereceda explained that the current sewer line replacement phase of the project is under the control of Lee County who owns and maintains Estero Blvd. The Town of Fort Myers Beach owns the water system and has completed all the major portions of the water line replacement. Scott Baker of the Town Public Works Dept indicated final surface details of the water line project should be wrapped up within several weeks.
Kiker promised to call and visit personally with anyone wishing to discuss the project and appreciated feedback. He indicated instructions to County Staff would include RFP’s for future phases would include the option of night work. Kiker stated estimates on the first phase of the project would cost 30% more if done at night versus the daytime, so there is a cost consideration affecting the project’s available funding. Kiker did report that $18 million was requested from Tallahassee in a loan to Lee County to help speed up the project time line from about 10 years total to 6 or 7 years. He reported Tallahassee turned down the request, so that funding option and strategy is dead at this time.
Some attendees that came to the meeting seeking ideas and solutions expressed disappointment afterwards. One attendee commented that they heard, “We will meet and get back to you,” which was disappointing. Kiker promised personal visits and that he would add the project to the next Lee County Commissioners meeting scheduled Tuesday Feb 16. Cereceda promised email response to everyone in attendance, even if it only was to report little progress.
See refreshfmbeach.com or contact Kaye Molnar at 239-337-1071 or Kmolnar@cella.cc for more information on the Estero Boulevard Projects.