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Lee County to seek appraisal of Bonita RV park, property; Future purchase possible to prevent flooding again

By Staff | Sep 10, 2008

Lee County commissioners decided to explore the possibility of purchasing the Manna Christian trailer park in Bonita Springs, where more than 900 people were forced to evacuate after sheet flow from Tropical Storm Fay caused flood waters to rise uncontrollably.

Though it was unanimously decided that an appraisal of the property must be done before other action can be taken, several issues complicate the process, forcing commissioners to remain divided on the potential outcome for the flooded park.

At the heart of the problem is what to do with the displaced families if the land is eventually purchased.

Commissioners opted to let some current residents return to their homes, but to keep out those who have violated zoning standards by adding additional rooms or extensions to their trailers.

A total of 413 people remained in the Estero Community Center, which is being used as a Red Cross shelter, as of Tuesday.

“These are real people with real stories,” Commissioner Tammy Hall said. “It’s not safe for some of these folks to go home. That’s the difficult part, realizing we can’t send people home to unsafe conditions.”

Flooding at Manna Christian is nothing new, as similar conditions forced evacuation of the park in 1995.

County commissioners at that time decided to let residents return to their homes, despite the threat of future flooding. Now commissioners are being cautious, despite the long-term goals for the park being somewhat fuzzy.

“We don’t want to repeat what the board did in 1995, that’s no answer,” Commissioner Bob Janes said. “But if we do less than that, that’s no answer either. We need to bite the bullet and seriously address the issue.”

Officials from the Lee County Division of Public Safety warned that no “silver bullet” exists to combat what is essentially a multilevel problem.

Short-term concerns are for the health conditions of people still living in the shelter, and for those residents allowed to return to their damaged homes. Finding short-term housing for residents not allowed to return is also an immediate problem.

“It’s going to be a challenge this community is going to face together,” said John Wilson from public safety. “It’s going to have consequences on housing in the short term.”

Commissioner Frank Mann leaned toward finding other solutions than purchasing the park.

“This is a short- to mid-term course we’re taking today. And frankly, I’m certain the only alternative is to buy the property,” Mann said. “It might be the owner needs to find a new use for that property.”