To the editor:
We all know how important the beaches are to our local tourism industry, and each year the Tourist Development Council funds projects to enhance this precious commodity. Yet, sometimes we need a gentle reminder that these projects are more than economic drivers. Beach and shorelines enhancements truly impact the people who visit Lee County's shores, as well as those of us who live here year round. The inspiring story of Marcus Thomas reminded me how true this is.
Mr. Thomas, a talented artist, was paralyzed years ago during a skiing accident but paints by holding his brush in his teeth. He specializes in wildlife art and loves the shoreline, yet he couldn't make his way onto the beautiful beaches of Sanibel Island because he uses a wheelchair. A TDC-funded project recently changed that.
The Captiva Erosion Prevention District used a $7,200 TDC grant to install a special mat that provides wheelchair beach access. In addition, an anonymous donor contributed funds to add wheelchair accessible picnic tables. Mr. Thomas visited the Allison Hagerup Beach Park earlier this month, and I was touched by the photos of him soaking in the beauty of our precious shore.
I thought of Mr. Thomas at the April 13 TDC meeting when members got their first look at the list of Beach and Shoreline Program projects for consideration this year. Utilizing 26.4 percent of the five-cent bed tax, this program has provided more than $75 million over the years to a variety of countywide projects related to beach maintenance, beach re-nourishment and park development.
This year, we anticipate the TDC will have about $6 million in tourist development taxes to allocate for beach and shoreline projects, and local government agencies have requested funding for projects totaling more than $7 million. The list of the projects is available online, and the TDC will consider them at the annual workshop scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on May 2, in the first floor conference room of the Administration East office building, located at 2201 Second Street in the Fort Myers River District. The Lee County Board of County Commissioners will review the projects and the TDC recommendations before making the final decision on project funding.
I hope this year's projects not only bolster our local tourism industry, but also positively impact the lives of visitors and residents like Mr. Thomas.