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Seawall assessment program suspended; Residents angry at cost

By Staff | May 22, 2008

Faced with a handful of upset and vocal property owners at Monday’s City Council meeting, elected officials delayed the ninth phase of the seawall assessment program and halted the installation of seawalls on vacant property for all future assessment areas for an indefinite period of time.

In a unanimous vote, the council reversed a position it took last month and is no longer compelling owners to install seawalls on about 175 vacant properties. Only Mayor Eric Feichthaler voted against the seawalls in April.

“You people have got a nerve,” property owner Sidney Kowalczyk wrote to the council earlier this month. “Who’s got $14,000 to throw around right now?”

More than a half dozen people railed against the assessments Monday, telling the council that they do not have the money to pay for a seawall.

The city put regulations in place decades ago to mandate that vacant properties must have seawalls, and that the project would move through a multiphase process much like the assessment segment of the utilities project.

City spokeswoman Connie Barron said the ninth phase was originally targeted for 2006, but the controversy surrounding the utilities expansion project delayed the seawall assessments by two years.

“We did not bring the project forward because of all of the cost increases and issues related to the Southwest 4 utilities project,” she said in an e-mail. “Because we had not seen any decrease in the costs related to the installation of seawalls, we decided to bring the project forward for council consideration this past April. They approved moving forward with this project.”

Feichthaler said Wednesday that the cost to property owners is the chief reason he voted against the seawall assessments in April and again on Monday.

“The reasons for putting on the seawall are not wholly illegitimate, but they are not acceptable for the cost of putting one in,” he said, adding that the project may move forward in the future, but he does not want to see that happen for several years.

Feichthaler further argued that the southwest section of Cape Coral is, in the long view, developing rapidly. City regulations that require newly constructed residences to build seawalls should help prevent major erosion problems.

“These will be seawalled, almost certainly, in the coming years,” he said. “I just don’t think the erosion is a major problem in most places.”

Councilmember Derrick Donnell said Monday that he did not anticipate the kind of reaction he saw at the meeting and in his e-mail inbox. After considering the economic circumstances and the cost of the seawalls, Donnell spoke bluntly about his April vote to move forward with the assessments.

“I got it wrong,” he said.

Feichthaler also took issue with the fact that property owners were not notified by mail of the impending assessment.

Barron pointed out that the council would still have to approve the project a third time, this time in a public hearing, and that approval on Monday would have spurred personal notifications.

“Council still had another step before this project would have been approved for actual construction of the seawalls, and that would have been a public hearing,” she said. “There is no point in sending letters to people to tell them that their properties might be included in a seawall project before council has even considered the project.”