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County: Waterways Estates sewage treatment plant purchase no longer an option

By Staff | Dec 25, 2008

The purchase of North Fort Myers Utilities, a citizen-backed alternative in the on-going Waterways Estates sewage treatment plant issue, is off the table, according to Lee County officials.
A disappointed group of citizens attended a recent town hall meeting held at County Commission Chambers when that announcement was made. County Commissioner Tammy Hall and Lee County’s Utilities Director Douglas Meurer led the meeting, and said the purchase was not financially feasible, with an offer rejected and an original price too high.
“It’s deja vu all over again,” said Jim Toth, who has worked the last several years on several citizens groups, including chairing the infrastructure subcommittee of the North Fort Myers Planning Panel. “There needs to be a plan for a single utility source for North Fort Myers.
He said years before he had campaigned for that same goal. At the last several meetings he had said the option of purchasing North Fort Myers Utilities was the most responsible and economically feasible solution to the problem.
From a longer list of alternatives last presented at a town hall meeting, Meurer first told those who attended this meeting that the top four choices determined over the last few months were:
n Purchase of NFMU
n A new, 2.5 million gallon plant on the
existing site
n Divert all flow to the city of Cape Coral
n Divert all flow to NFMU
Now with NFMU alternative gone, the other three will go to the Board of County Commissioners at a Jan. 5 Management and planning meeting. Commissioners will review the alternatives, look at financial comparisons and there will be a request for direction on the issue.
Gregg Makepeace, president of the North Fort Myers Civic Association, also said he is disappointed, particularly for environmental concerns.
“I think it’s a prime opportunity to take all of that sewage treatment facility off of the island for two reasons,” he said. “One, the potential for any pollution would be eliminated, getting all those pipes out. Secondly, it would make the island of more value. Who wants a sewage system plant or pumping station on a multi-million-riverfront property? If it doesn’t get down now, it probably never would.”
Many voiced that opinion in previous meetings and during the most recent public comment session.
“No one is more disappointed than I am about North Fort Myers Utilities,” said Hall. “I also want marine use there.”
She added that the priority now is the needed expansion capability. “As soon as we lock that down, we can look at other use.”
It was originally hoped that the waterfront site would be a marine haven, with a marina, restaurant or a park.
The county purchased the 5.8-acre, $13.8 million riverfront property in Waterways Estates that has an existing sewage treatment plant, and initially said it needed to consider expanding that existing treatment center.
There is the pressing need of expanding services in the area, but financial concerns are an issue, said Hall.
“We have to double the capacity, but the biggest concern is utility rates going up,” she said. “The area only covers about 4 percent of Lee.”
She said too expensive a plan would impact too many other residents’ rates.
From his presentation, Meurer said that a key point to diverting flow to Cape Coral or NFMU included spending on design for a master pump station that may be needed at the existing wastewater treatment plant site. At a minimum, a standard pump station would be need at the site.
He showed routes of where construction could take place to link users to the utilities. Piping would need to be installed throughout the area to connect to either company.
“The station would have to be about 75 x 75 feet. It would not be as high as the existing structure,” said Meurer. “It would be about half the height, and lower profile.”
Of the space, Meurer showed what the exterior and interior view would look like, which he said is aesthetically pleasing. There have been many complaints on what the current plant area looks like since purchase by the county, particularly the fencing around the property. Hall said that was to save county from lawsuits if anyone was hurt there.
It’s been over a year since the purchase, and more time will be need for any type of expansion,” Meurer said.
The estimated timeline after BOCC direction is:
n Approximately two years for zoning, permits and property acquisition
n Approximately one year construction of master pump station and force main issue
n Approximately six months to remove plant if that is determines
The public has no input in manage-ment and planning meetings.
“There will be a meeting with public input before any kind of commission vote,” said Hall. She encourages citizens to contact her office with their e-mails so she can inform on upcoming meetings.
You can also view a taping of the meeting on the county’s Web site, see Meurer’s full PowerPoint presentation there or you can also get a CD of the meeting from Hall’s office.
Hall’s e-mail is dist4@leegov.com and her address is 2120 Main St., Fort Myers, FL 33902. The phone number for her office is 533-2226.