Happy Holidays during this Christmas season! With just seven days left in the current year, it's time to look back before we gaze ahead to the new year and what it has to offer.
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 2013. All stories were written by Bob Petcher.
Beach nourishment study moved to Phase II
Funds have been allotted for the second phase of a feasibility study for alternative ways to improve and monitor the Estero Island shoreline.
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council unanimously approved the transfer of $134,234 from the Town's Beach Nourishment Fund coffers for Phase II of the Coastal Management Plan and authorized Manager Terry Stewart to enter into a Professional Services Agreement with Coastal and Harbor Engineering.
Before the approval, Coastal and Harbor Engineering reviewed existing data and studies of Phase I and presented recommendations for continued scope of work to develop an understanding of coastal processes and other factors that control short- and long-term shoreline changes of the island. The next step is to evaluate recommendations and long-term solutions that could maximize coastal stability for its shoreline.
Port Authority approves Beach recommendations
Lee County Port Authority officials are keenly aware of the aircraft issues over Estero Island since a 2008 airspace redesign to and from Southwest Florida International Airport negatively impacted residents, property owners and business owners. On Monday, they unanimously approved study recommendations and a resolution created by the Fort Myers Beach Town Council to solidify their position.
Beach suffers another pedestrian fatality
A recent pedestrian versus vehicle accident proved to be a fatality for one person when an elderly married couple was struck by a vehicle while crossing Estero Boulevard at a crosswalk near Bay Beach Lane on the south end of Fort Myers Beach.
"Something needs to happen here on the south end of Fort Myers Beach to calm the traffic on the boulevard during the (tourism) season," said Fish Tale Marina owner Al Durrett. "This time of year, people are just going out to dinner when the sun is falling."
RV park fire victims receive support
A vacationing Canadian family that lost nearly all of their traveling possessions in a fire involving their mobile home at Red Coconut RV Park last Thursday morning are coping and making the best of an unfortunate situation nearly one week later,
Quebec residents Fernand and Diane Boutin along with their daughter are staying in an unoccupied, on-site trailer that was generously offered by a neighbor in the RV park. The Boutins have also received money, refrigerator items and clothing from neighbor collections.
Resident gains national sailing honor
Beach resident and lifelong Southwest Floridian Ross Webb credits the sport of sailing for basically saving his life.
That life was recently enriched when he was nationally honored for his sailing center's program development at the U.S. Sailing National Conference in Clearwater on Jan. 24.
Webb, one of the founders of the Fort Myers-based Edison Sailing Center, received the "Outstanding Outreach and Inclusion Award." The center is one of nine sanctioned community sailing centers devoted to the instruction and promotion of sailing in the U.S.
SCI redevelopment receives zoning approval
Although traffic concerns were brought up repeatedly, a proposed high density development project on San Carlos Island has moved past required zoning procedures and closer to a reality.
The Lee County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the recommendations for the unnamed project recently made by Hearing Examiner Diana Parker and County staff at a zoning hearing Monday morning. All five commissioners felt comfortable supporting the project due to its monetary benefits (impact fees) and environmental benefits (improved water quality, drainage, improved road conditions), but gave their approval with reluctance if a well-grounded traffic mitigation plan is not instituted.
Input sought for future major roadwork
It takes a village to raze a road. The Lee County Department of Transportation in conjunction with the Town of Fort Myers Beach is seeking comments and suggestions through an online website and workshops during a project team's development of preliminary design plans for improving Estero Boulevard from Crescent Street to Big Carlos Pass.
Officials from both governmental entities manned an "open house" workshop at St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church Thursday afternoon. It was the first of many workshops to incite Beach residents to provide input on proposed improvements to Estero Boulevard, including crosswalks, bike lanes, landscaping and more.
Conceptual designs of the future six-mile stretch of the boulevard were on display. Representatives from Lee County and the Town of Fort Myers Beach along with the project team answered questions and received comments.
Red tide bloom remains offshore from Beach
The respiratory irritation you might have been experiencing roughly two weeks ago had nothing to do with some new super flu that you read about.
It involved the effects from red tide, a type of algal bloom that occurs naturally and has a dense concentration of the microscopic, plant-like algae called "Karenia brevis."
According to Town of Fort Myers Beach Environmental Science Coordinator Keith Laakkonen, the red tide bloom is well offshore at this point, but could return. He has been monitoring red tide cell counts for the Town for five years overall and this particular bloom since it first came into the Southwest Florida area in November 2012.
Mandel appointed mayor as Council reorganizes
Ever since former Beach Mayor Larry Kiker officially resigned on Oct. 5, 2012, to make a successful run at County Commission, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council has seen two Councilmen share the reins of being mayor -one in the interim role and one in an acting role.
When Kiker left office, Beach Vice Mayor Bob Raymond was promoted to mayor on an interim basis and Mandel was elected to vice mayor. In February, Raymond had to take a leave of absence due to a health issue that required surgery. He voluntarily stepped down from being mayor for a period of time, and Mandel was thrust into an acting mayor position and remained in that role until two days ago.
During a Council reorganization on Monday evening, Mandel shed his "acting" title when he was unanimously appointed to the Council's top spot during a reorganization Monday evening. Acting Vice mayor Joe Kosinski was unanimously appointed to vice mayor.
Preserve trails renamed for founders
Matanzas Pass Preserve received a face-lift and some well-deserved recognition during a trail naming, boardwalk extension and ribbon-cutting ceremony Saturday morning.
Five trails in the 60-acre mangrove forest and maritime oak hammock property situated at the end of Bay Road on Estero Island were renamed in dedication of five founders of the Friends of Matanazas Pass Preserve (Roxie Smith, Lois Gressman, Tom Myers, Ann Alsop and Betty Davis Simpson). The ceremony also included plaque presentations, a peace pole presentation, the trail map unveiling and the ribbon cutting.
One of Fort Myers Beach all-time leading ladies took a final bow last Friday. Roxie Davis Smith passed away at age 78 due to complications from a lingering illness.
Smith, who was born and raised in Lincoln, Neb. and grew up in South, S.D., moved down to Estero Island in 1964. She first visited the Beach in 1950 while on vacation from boarding school in South Dakota. During her years on Estero Island, she was known for her grace, countrywide smile and involvement with local, county and state issues.
"She was like a sister to me," said Fran Myers, her longtime friend. "For me, it is a personal loss. We went to every meeting and function together. We put out a lot of fires together. I don't think everyone knew how tough as nails she was. She was a behind-the-scene person who could put her fingers in her mouth, whistle and call a group together. On the outside, she was a lady that didn't seek publicity for herself. She was so smart. I am losing a dear friend."
Wal-Mart plans to move into Summerlin Square
One of the largest retailers in the world is planning on moving into the abandoned Summerlin Square property in the future.
Wal-Mart, a noted American retail corporation, could conceivably begin breaking ground at the site of the former Winn-Dixie Supermarket at this time next year. If approved, owners and developers intend to rezone 21.85 acres to commercial planned development to allow a standard shopping center with an intensity of up to 154,749 square feet of floor area and 3,086 square feet of additional outdoor garden center. The proposed maximum building height is 45 feet at the 11331 Summerlin Square Dr. location.
Big M roof sign deemed historically significant
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council approved a request for the Big M roof sign to be designated historically significant, but denied the marina business a sign variance for its overall existing signage that exceeds the maximum sign area as described by the Town sign ordinance. Both cases were heard in separate hearings at Town Hall on Monday morning.
The painted roof sign on one of the marina storage facilities was deemed a landmark due to a proved finding specified by the Historic Preservation Board, an offshoot of the Town's Local Planning Agency. The sign, which the LPA also approved, was designated historically significant due to a finding stating it being a "local landmark that is popularly recognized as a focal point in the community."
Commissioner offers boulevard funding choice
Finding revenue sources to keep an upcoming road project on Fort Myers Beach in a sequential segmented fashion is becoming a daunting task for County officials.
Last week, Lee County Department of Transportation Director David Loveland pitched various plans for the County Commissioners to consider regarding three priority road projects, including Estero Boulevard. Homestead Road in Lehigh and Alico Road are the others.
Funding ideas included raising property taxes by way of a dedicated millage, using road impact fees, increasing sales taxes or implementing an infrastructure sales tax. Though no action was taken at the Management and Planning meeting, County officials discussed the options as another step forward in the process. Lee DOT staff recommendations involve appropriating a dedicated millage for the Estero Boulevard reconstruction and deciding whether to begin a process to move forward on an infrastructure sales tax referendum for 2014.
Cermak receives Humanitarian Award
Beach resident and business owner Bruce Cermak has contributed mightily to just about any and every cause since he moved to Fort Myers Beach in 1986.
The well-known owner of Surf Club understands the "pay it forward" method well. Benefactors such as Bay Oaks Recreational Campus, Beach Elementary School, Matanzas Pass Preserve, Ostego Bay Foundation, New Church of Southwest Florida, Find A Home Give A Home pet rescue organization and Harry Chapin Food Bank (to name a few) have been blessed by his giving nature by way of donations, gift certificates or fundraising events he has put on at the business' two locations over the years.
For all he has done over the years, Cermak was selected as Humanitarian of the Year for 2012 and was honored at the Fort Myers Beach Observer/Beach Bulletin "Best of the Beach" ceremony at Big Game Waterfront Grill Tuesday.
Coast Guard FMB receives fourth readiness award
Crew members of U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Myers Beach now have a new commanding officer and, if history proves anything, they will continue a strong tradition of being at the ready of ensuring public safety and security within more than 150 miles of shoreline, spanning five counties in Florida.
During a Change of Command ceremony last week, the local Coast Guard station unit proved to be among the elite in its field when it was presented with yet another Sumnar I Kimball Award, a multiple-day assessment test involving exercises, systems checks, rigorous inspections of vessel conditions and applied training techniques. This marks its fourth consecutive bi-annual readiness and standardization assessment award. It now has achieved the feat under former Chief Warrant Officers Peter Louzao in 2007, Gene Gibson in 2009, Jeffrey Kerner in 2011 and again Gibson in 2013.
This year's award recipients scored 48 out of a possible 50 points for a near-perfect score and received a 100-percent rating in their training, underway exercises and rescue and survival systems programs, according to U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg Capt. Gregory Case. Besides receiving a plaque, the crew is again authorized to fly a Kimball Readiness Pennant at their station until the next bi-annual visit.
Beach waters feeling Lake O releases
The salinity level, living organisms (such as plant life, marine animals) and possibly even human respiratory health are all feeling the effects of the recent prolonged Lake Okeechobee releases into the Caloosahatchee River.
Regulating flows from lake and water sheds to river have become a delicate balancing act between scientists and engineers, between protecting estuaries and the overflow of the lake. Town of Fort Myers Beach Environmental Sciences Coordinator Keith Laakkonen has been monitoring the situation. While releases are year round, the releases have been larger and more frequent during this time of year due to heavy seasonal rains.
Beach businesses required to recycle soon
A recycling program is now mandatory for all commercial establishments on Estero Island.
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council unanimously adopted an ordinance to approve the action for businesses on Estero Island during a public hearing Monday. The policy goes into effect Nov. 1, 2013.Commercial establishments will be required to recycle at least one type of recyclable material that they generate, and that matter must constitute the largest portion of the business's waste stream.
Town joins fight to repeal flood insurance act
Town officials are taking immediate action on country-wide flood insurance legislation that negatively affects particular Beach property owners.
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council unanimously approved a resolution that urges the U.S. Congress to take action on the Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. Called the Biggert Waters Act, the flood insurance legislation will affect coastal communities, like the Beach, through dramatic increases in flood insurance premiums if the Act is not repealed or delayed. An added clause to the resolution involves a possible alternative of a National Disaster Fund to keep rates lower.
Beach property owners that may be affected include those who have ground level/pre-firm structures for either residence or business. The resolution is being sent to various U.S. Senators, Representatives and Gov. Rick Scott.
Beach Fire to make artifact into memorial
The Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District is in the process of creating a lasting memorial with a monument involving a World Trade Center artifact for all to see. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at Fire Station #33 at 121 Lenell Rd.
Fort Myers-based Boulton Construction has volunteered its services to design, plan, build and help with fundraising efforts for the construction of the memorial.
The 9-11 memorial is expected to be completed and erected at the island's south end station in February 2014, and a remembrance ceremony is slated at that location a year from today on Sept. 11, 2014. The constructed memorial will commemorate the attacks and honor all the lives that were lost -the fallen victims and heroes- on that infamous day.
Senator visits Beach/ hears water concerns
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and other top ranking officials made a trip to Estero Island Thursday to check out the beachfront, dip their toes in the Gulf and listen to comments from Beach hospitality members about the economic impact suffered since high flow regulatory freshwater releases were discharged from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River and consequently along Southwest Florida beachfronts and saltwater estuaries.
After the brief beachfront visit, Benacquisto was joined by State Representative Ray Rodriguez along with Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker, Beach Mayor Alan Mandel and Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane at the head of the round table inside Pink Shell Beach Resort's Lido Ballroom. This trip came after she visited Sanibel and before she attended an evening town hall meeting on the subject at the Lee County Emergency Operations Center.
Water pollution deemed critical problem
The message was loud and clear from three members of the Florida Coastal and Oceans Coalition at an open public forum at Pink Shell Resort last Wednesday -one that was attended by approximately only 30 people.
High flow regulatory freshwater releases discharged from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers are damaging our coastal habitats and water quality to the point where the action will negatively affect not only our ecology but our economy, tourism industry and eventually our health in a devastating way. The problem is cited as water management, and there is not enough storage space during the rainy season.
Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel, Conservancy of Southwest Florida Natural Resources Policy Director Jennifer Hecker and FCOC coordinator Ray Judah made powerpoint presentations about the scientific angles of the impact during the Coastal Estuaries in Peril forum. Afterwards, they heard public comments, answered questions and made pleas for everyone to act now.
House/Senate plan to delay flood insurance act
Brand new legislation in flood insurance rates is being introduced and could be great news to residents and business owners who have ground level/pre-firm structures on Fort Myers Beach if it passes.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House and Senate reached a tentative agreement Monday to delay rate increases for millions of consumers in the nation's flood insurance program. The legislation based on the lawmaker's agreement would delay the rate hikes for four years and require FEMA to complete an affordability study before increasing any flood insurance premiums in the future.
As of press time, the deal was expected to be shaped into legislation and filed in the Senate on Tuesday by a group of lawmakers mostly from Gulf Coast states, including Florida's U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who filed a similar measure of his own in the Senate last month.
Entertainment district report questioned
Proposed regulation for an existing entertainment district in downtown Fort Myers Beach received negative feedback from neighboring and island residents during a workshop at Town Hall last week.
After listening to a report from Larue Planning Management and discussion from Town officials, many residents spoke in opposition to potential guidelines that may extend business hours of operation, increase entertainment sound decibel levels and create more of a party atmosphere within an area encompassing Old San Carlos Boulevard to either Crescent Street or as far as Lani Kai Beach Resort.
Kiker appointed chairman of BOCC
In its annual reorganization, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners appointed Commissioner Larry Kiker to serve as chairman at its regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday morning.
Kiker, a Fort Myers Beach resident who has served as vice chair since taking office in November 2012, will serve a one-year term for 2013-14, along with Commissioner Brian Hamman, the newly elected vice chairman.
Town official requests, receives, investigation into elevated pool chatter
Responding to a department director's request, Town Manager Terry Stewart has turned to an outside attorney in regards to a rumor said to allege impropriety related to the Town's controversial elevated pool policy.
Concerned about false rumors he says are potentially damaging to his reputation and town government operations, Town Community Development Director Walter Fluegel has asked for and received a formal investigation he says is needed to maintain the public trust.
Fluegel stated in a Nov. 20 memorandum to Stewart and Town Attorney Marilyn Miller that the rumor he believes is circulating involves an allegation that he has been "bribed" by developer Joe Orlandini in regards to the issue of elevated pools on Palermo Circle on the Beach. Orlandini, who also emphatically denies any such allegation, is the principal builder involved with the pools/decks.
Flight improvements over Beach questioned
A member of the Fort Myers Beach Air Intrusion Relief group provided an updated report on recommendations regarding a Federal Aviation Administration flight tracking system on Monday afternoon.
Beach resident Tom Babcock gave a power-point presentation after recently collecting data and information about the over-flight status of Estero Island. He shared that report and his opinions to the Fort Myers Beach Town Council at a workshop at Town Hall.
It has been 10 months since Federal Aviation Regulation Part 150 Noise Study recommendations at Southwest International Airport were approved by Lee County Board of Port Commissioners and forwarded to FAA for comment and approval. Recommendations include keeping aircraft at or above 3,000 feet over Estero Island, maximizing routing of aircraft over uninhabited Estero Bay rather than the island, establishing Runway 24 as the preferred runway from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to route aircraft away from the island, increasing altitude for early morning arrivals and promoting use of RNAV optimized descent approach to Runway 6 to reduce noise and improve aircraft efficiency.