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Citizens offer their input for transportation study

By Staff | Feb 4, 2009

More than 100 island residents attended last week’s first “Open House” workshop for the Alternative Transportation in Parks & Public Lands (ATPPL) J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge study, where project managers and members of the public shared information and offered feedback on several potential solutions to improving traffic flow both within the refuge and around Sanibel.

The goals of the ATPPL program are to conserve natural, historical and cultural resources, reduce congestion and pollution, improve visitor mobility and accessibility and enhance the visitor experience.

The workshop included an informational video compiled by project partner Cella Molnar & Associates, Inc. of Fort Myers and five individual stations arranged at the Sanibel Recreation Center:

General Concerns for Refuge & Island

Motorized Options

Non-Motorized Options

Waterborne Options

Congestion Management Options

“We want to hear from the public because we’ve not not preconceived ideas in place,” said David Baxter, who manned the Motorized Options station. “We’re trying to find out what support there is for motorized vehicles, if any, and which ones would be viable for the island itself, not just at the refuge.”

Lee County Transit (LeeTran), in cooperation with its partners – the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the City of Sanibel – was awarded a grant through the Federal Transit Administration under the ATPPL program. The program is designed to assist national parks and public lands (including wildlife refuges) in managing their visitation, while meeting the primary goal of providing sanctuary habitats for various wildlife.

“Frankly, the best way to see the refuge is on a bike,” said resident Darla Letourneau as she looked over the Non-Motorized Options station. “We want the emphasis of their plan to be on biking as the best alternative transportation option.”

According to Cella Molnar & Associates’ video, transportation options include both standard and “green” vehicles (automobiles, buses, trams, trains and trolleys), bicycles, water taxis and shuttles. Although some of the suggested options in the video may not be feasible for Sanibel, staff members are willing to consider every option available.

“I see people driving really fast through the refuge,” said resident Paul Vernaglia. “If they’re there to see wildlife, I don’t know why they wouldn’t slow down.”

Vernaglia was one of several concerned citizens discussing general concerns and the potential impact with “Ding” Darling NWR manager Paul Tritaik, who fielded questions from the crowd.

“What we’re attempting to do here is to get feedback from the public as to how we can improve ways to get around the refuge,” Tritaik said. “We’ll gather those ideas and suggestions and pass them along.”

To coincide with last week’s “Open House,” a new Web site – www.dingdarlingtransportation.com – was launched to assist with gathering public input about the project.

“As one of the most visited refuges in the system, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge experiences high traffic volumes,” their Web site states. “This study is designed to explore appropriate and environmentally sensitive solutions for managing the volume of visitors and their transportation needs in order to achieve an appropriate balance between an enjoyable visitor experience and the potential resultant disturbance of wildlife.”

On the Web site, people may also take an online survey about what transportation options they feel are most suited for Sanibel and the refuge itself.

“I didn’t know a problem (with transportation at the refuge) even existed before coming here,” added Vernaglia. “I care about the traffic, I care about congestion and I care about the refuge. I love Sanibel, and I don’t want to see it damaged. More people need to get involved with this.”

Although no dates have been set, Kris Cella noted that there will be more public scoping workshops in the near future, as well as members of her staff conducting one-on-one interviews with residents at various Sanibel locations in the coming weeks. She encouraged people to take the online survey and read more about the project.

For more information, contact Kris Cella at Cella Molnar & Associates, Inc. by calling 239-337-1071, 1-877-496-1076 (toll-free) or by sending an e-mail to kcella@cella.cc.