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Year in Review: 2012

January 2, 2013
Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

--All stories written by Bob Petcher-

The following is a month-by-month breakdown of some of the more important stories that were featured in the Fort Myers Beach Observer during the course of 2012.


Alcohol on beach regulation moves to Council

Regulation for expanding service of alcoholic beverages on the beachfront on Fort Myers Beach moved one step closer to a final legislative decision last week.

During a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 10, the Town's Local Planning Agency approved an ordinance for regulating Consumption on Premises for extended service from a licensed premise into the Environmentally Critical zoning district. The motion passed by a 4-2 count with members Joanne Shamp and John Kakatsch dissenting.

The ordinance, which was pre-approved by Town staff, will be sent to the five members of Town Council for review and consideration for either a workshop or public hearing in the upcoming weeks.

Beach Library celebrates growth with topping ceremony

The Fort Myers Beach Public Library reached a milestone Thursday at a special topping ceremony that featured the raising of a community-signed central steel beam to a designated area on the new building's construction expansion.

Beach Library Director Leroy Hommerding stated that a topping ceremony is an ancient ritual in the building trade and means that the builders have reached the tallest point of construction. From Monday to Wednesday last week, library goers had a chance to sign the beam that serves as a time capsule of sorts.


Is the time ripe for Estero Boulevard re-design?

Traffic congestion. It happens when the demand for traveling on a given road increases and causes slower speeds, delays in trip times and unwanted anxiety. Nobody likes it, especially if you are directly involved in it.

Ask anyone traveling to or off Fort Myers Beach this time of year. From early in the morning to sunset and beyond, the waiting game occurs.

For many years, Town and County officials have looked at ways to re-route traffic or find alternative sources to relieve congestion during these tourism months. A two-lane road for an island that triples to quadruples in people volume can sure get stagnant for much of the day.


Durrett receives Humanitarian Award

Fish-Tale Marina Owner Al Durrett is a businessman with a plan.

He has gone from an Ohio car dealership owner to owning three marinas in Southwest Florida to condensing his efforts to one marina and re-developing it into a state-designated "Clean Marina" while becoming a plaza general manager. Then, he concentrated his efforts into charitable contributions and philanthropic endeavors to pay back the community that he loves.

For that, he was named Humanitarian of the Year for 2011 at the Fort Myers Beach Observer/Beach Bulletin Best of the Beach ceremony at Nervous Nellie's Crazy Waterfront Eatery Friday. The humanitarian award will be an honor for all his employees to enjoy.

Fire chief resigns, acting chief appointed

Fort Myers Beach Fire Chief Mike Becker is no longer with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District after tending a resignation to the District and being relieved of his duties by the fire commission. Asst. Chief Darren White will serve as acting chief until further notice.

After a short "special" meeting on Monday with fire administrative and district officials, a District statement was released to media outlets. The release featured a written notice by Becker stating his termination from employment effective June 19, 2012, and followed with the following: "As authorized by Section 20 of Chief Becker's Employment Agreement, the Board of Fire Commissioners has taken official action to relieve the Chief of his duties through the termination of his Employment Agreement on June 19, 2012."

Shoreline emergency declared at Leonardo Arms

The beachfront that is adjacent to Leonardo Arms condominiums at 7400 Estero Blvd. is under eroding duress, and Town officials are doing something about it.

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council unanimously approved a resolution to issue a Declaration of Local Shoreline Emergency from the Department of Environmental Protection to allow the Town to seek a permit for temporary protective measures.

The declaration will allow regulatory relief to the identified area to address the erosion stress, which could worsen due to storm activity, through expedited emergency permitting. Temporary emergency protective structures, such as sand bags, may be used to help in the erosion process


Alcohol on beach issue goes back to workshops

It's back to the drawing board for the Fort Myers Beach Council and probably the most controversial agenda item since the Town incorporated in 1995.

Beach bar/restaurant owners will have to wait at least one month to see if a revised ordinance will create some equity for all 16 existing establishments and not just a few licensed establishments presently selling and serving alcohol on the beachfront.

After four hours worth of discussion including input from 30 public speakers, a motion, an amendment to that motion and a withdrawn motion, Council decided to close a second hearing regarding the expansion of consumption on premises and move the issue back to workshop mode.

Call for action after another pedestrian struck

Education about public safety cannot arrive too soon on Fort Myers Beach. After two pedestrian/vehicle incidents on the south end of the island that resulted in one death and another seriously injured within six weeks, town officials are eager to begin action to help resolve issues and improve awareness that may result in cutting back on accidents.

Last Wednesday (April 18), a visually impaired woman was struck by a vehicle while crossing east to west at a crosswalk near Holiday Inn on the Beach at the 6800 block of Estero Boulevard. Beach resident Josephine Kastner, age 81, was using a cane to help her cross the road and was transported to a local hospital via Med Flight with serious injuries.

On March 9, Mary Ann Hechimovich, age 67, was struck by a vehicle while crossing Estero Boulevard towards Santini Marina Plaza and died at the site. She was the final member of her family to cross the street (albeit not at a crosswalk) on the poorly lit boulevard at night.

Mayor Larry Kiker, who was appointed to lead a public safety task force two days before the most recent incident, said he has already spoken to officials at the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department and Lee County Sheriff's Office and there has been confirmation that they will be a part of the effort. County officials have also been invited.


Dredging at Big Carlos Pass needed

The navigational passageways at Big Carlos Pass and New Pass appear to be becoming an issue for both boat traffic and environmentalists.

Concerned residents and officials are taking the initiative to start a process that will involve a proposed dredging project to help clear sand that has been filling into Big Carlos Pass. Depths have been recorded as low as two to 2 feet in some areas of the pass.

Members of the San Carlos & Estero Islands Waterfront Partnership (IBOT) decided to sponsor the Big Carlos Pass project and take the initial step by holding a stakeholders meeting at Fish Tale Marina recently. Officials from the Town of Fort Myers Beach, City of Bonita Springs, Coast Guard, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, power squadrons, condominium associations, boat clubs, realtors and marinas as well as other concerned residents attended the informal conference to discuss options. County officials were also invited but could not attend.

FMB Chamber selects Nocera as next president

The Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has named a new man to lead the nonprofit organization now that President John Albion is preparing to step down. He is no stranger to the area and business community with more than 30 years of public and private sector experience in all phases of marketing and management.

Frank (Bud) Nocera will take over the president position and will be guided under the tutelage of Albion for a week or two before taking responsibilities fully.


Public Safety Task Force plugs recommendations

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council will be receiving one or more presentations about public safety on Estero Island in the near future. Recommendations from task force subcommittees will be brought forth for Town government consideration.

On Tuesday, June 5, members of the Town's Public Safety Task Force offered various recommendations about how to better protect pedestrian traffic along Estero Boulevard and other Beach roads. Issues such as lighting, crosswalks, medians, education and speed limits were discussed among the nine participating members.


Former USS Mohawk becomes a County reef

A historic battleship that had been resting and somewhat rehabilitated at a San Carlos Island dock has been sunk for its final service as a veterans' memorial reef.

Since mid-May, the former USS Mohawk (WPG-78) had been docked at Kelly Brothers Marine Construction off of Main Street, where it was stripped down to make it environmentally safe and outfitted with twin machine gun replicas.

The last remaining ship of the Battle of the Atlantic - the longest continuous military campaign during World War II- was dropped in the Gulf of Mexico off of Sanibel roughly 20 miles offshore in a revival of sorts.

Beach fire fighters to suffer through pay matrix

A decision on payback methodology from money due by Fort Myers Beach Fire District 3 employees has been made. The recapture process will be reflected next Tuesday, July 17.

The decision is not to the liking of the Beach fire fighters who are affected by the legislative action. Recovery paybacks for each fire fighter will need to be adjusted with one lump sum to their next check.

Although discussion stemmed from the Collective Bargaining Agreement item, the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Board of Fire Commissioners did not have to approve the action at a special meeting at Town Hall on July 3, according to Fire Board Attorney Richard Pringle.


Kiker wins primary over Judah

There will be a new County commissioner in the District 3 seat for the first time in 24 years.

Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker unofficially defeated incumbent Ray Judah in the Republican primary election Tuesday evening and will face San Carlos Island resident Charlie Whitehead, of no party affiliation, in the general election on Nov. 6.

Kiker beat Judah by a 36,614 to 20,658 vote margin by gaining 63.93 percent of the vote. The results will become certified and official on Friday at 9 a.m.

COP expansion issue goes back to hearing

It has been more than four months since the Fort Myers Beach Town Council has placed any weight on a controversial, yet equity-based issue that has since been examined by a Town-led task force. On Monday, Council decided it needed morning, afternoon and evening hours of interest on the matter.

The proposed expansion of Consumption on Premises is going back to a hearing, its third. Council approved to hold the final COP hearing on Sept. 4, at 5:30 p.m. on Monday evening.


Town turns to code enforcement following turtle incident

A local property management company and an owner of a beachfront house are facing a code enforcement hearing after tenants reportedly left lighting on during a sea turtle nest hatching on Aug. 16.

According to Town records, Bay Pointe Property Management and William Griggs of Twin Lakes, Wis. received notice of a special magistrate hearing on Sept. 12, involving the nest-hatching incident near the property at 3420 Estero Blvd. A notice of the hearing was sent out on Aug. 23.

The alleged violation is listed under chapter 14 of the Town's Land Development Code section entitled Environment and Natural Resources, Article II Sea Turtle Conservation.


Whitefly: New pest invades Beach trees and plants

A relatively new insect from Central America is affecting native vegetation by sucking the sap out of the leaves of plants and trees on Estero Island and other island communities.

The rugose spiraling whitefly may not be directly killing palm trees, gumbo limbos and other plant life during their feeding process, but these unwelcomed pests are weakening the tree's immune system and might be opening up the door for other pathogens or weather conditions to do the job.


Kiker wins Dist. 3 commission seat

County voters substantiated that background experience in a governmental seat is truly more vote worthy than a reporter's skill set.

Republican Larry Kiker, the former mayor of Fort Myers Beach, unofficially defeated Charlie Whitehead, who ran with no party affiliation, in the "Battle across the Bay" race for Lee County Board of County Commissioners Dist. 3 seat on Election Day yesterday.

With 125 of the 126 precincts recorded (99.21 percent of the total vote) this morning, Kiker amassed 141,144 votes and gained 63.67 percent of the vote to outgain the San Carlos Island resident and writer, who collected 80,540 votes.

Beach Fire Board meeting heats up

Members of the Fort Myers Beach Board of Fire Commissioners discussed alleged illegalities in the selection process of their recently appointed fire chief and his contract negotiations as well as a filed complaint by one of the fire district's employees about an alleged Sunshine Law violation on Tuesday, Nov. 20.

Regarding FMB Fire Chief Darren White's contract process, the fire commissioners addressed concerns that the process was not done correctly and that White does not meet the job requirements required to be a chief.

In what Beach Fire Chairman David Brower called a "bizarre argument," there was no closure to the discussion that involved fire control district bylaws, job descriptions and job contracts for the past and current fire chief.


SCI development project causes division

The small-town character of a small community island across the bridge from Fort Myers Beach could change with a proposed high-rise development as soon as 2014.

In the future, San Carlos Island may become more populated if Lee County Commissioners approve the Ebtide rezoning project to a development group.

At a continuation of a hearing examiner case last Wednesday, many SCI residents, Beach officials and others gave approving and disapproving views after listening to both County and development officials discuss factors including zoning application specifications and claims of several modified revisions.

The proposed project would involve a destination resort mixed-use redevelopment, one that would bring roughly 271 dwelling units in five condominium towers, 450 hotel rooms, 75,000 square feet of convention center space, 15,000 square feet of general and office space, 85,000 square feet of commercial retail space as well as 608 units of dry storage and 242 wet slips, of which roughly 536 combined units currently exist. In 2009, County commissioners approved a future land use map to pave a way for the project.

Fallen heroes honored during Gulf tribute

Seven biodegradable wreaths representing the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and Prisoners of War/ Missing in Action were placed one by one in the Gulf roughly three miles off Fort Myers Beach last Saturday.

The touching annual tribute during the holiday season was part of a military ceremony by local representatives of Wreaths Across America to honor U.S. veterans buried and lost at sea. The local event began at the Veterans Memorial Bridge on the Caloosahatchee and ended in the Gulf.

The Southwest Florida ceremony -one of 800 different ceremonies across the nation that happened simultaneously at noon that day- is the first floating location designated in the nation by Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization founded to expand the annual wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.



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