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Health issues cited as stimulus funds sought

By Staff | Mar 7, 2009

Health concerns over the water supplied from shallow wells in Cape Coral have emerged as the city tries to get federal stimulus funds for its defunct utilities expansion project.
After the city’s utilities project was halted last month, largely over questions of the project’s cost and assessments faced by homeowners in harsh economic times, the city is hoping stimulus dollars will help alleviate the financial burden the project carries.
In its application to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for inclusion in the State Revolving Fund Program, the city was aided by a letter from Judith Hartner, director of the Lee County Health Department, outlining the health hazards connected to shallow wells.
“The primary health hazard associated with well failure is high chloride levels in private drinking water wells due to saltwater and brackish water intrusion,” Hartner states in her letter, which also says her department has found coliform and fecal bacteria in Cape Coral wells.
According to Dr. Robert South, LCHD epidemiologist, the bacteria can cause gastroenteritis (stomach flu) and diarrhea.
An estimated 500 wells have been tested in the last two years, and about 10 cases were positive for fecal coliform.
Charles Walther, director of LCHD’s Environmental Engineering Division, said Hartner’s letter was geared toward getting money to help fund the UEP.
“The letter was being done so they could possibly get money from the stimulus package,” Walther said.
Hartner was not available for comment Friday.
As the city goes after federal dollars to fund the UEP, Cape business leaders are bemoaning the project’s indefinite stoppage as a major obstacle discouraging commercial development.
Current and former city leaders addressed a meeting of the Council for Progress, a business advocacy group, Friday on the UEP.
Councilmember Tim Day, who helped bring forward, pass, and ultimately rescind a plan to bring water utilities to the area north of Pine Island Road, said the project’s cost and economic factors are paramount to any progress.
“What I want to see happen is the extreme lowest cost we can pass on to the people. There really are a lot of people hurting right now,” Day said.
An estimated $6,000 in assessments and fees would have fallen on 57,000 lot owners in north Cape Coral had the water utility proposal gone through.
Three resolutions to bring water, sewer, and irrigation utilities to the Southwest 6/7 area — which were also initially passed and later rescinded — would have brought $17,000 in assessments and fees to the 6,500 homeowners there.
John Manning, a Cape Coral Councilmember in the late 1980s, said it would take more than just a lower overall cost for the UEP find political support for the controversial project.
“It’s the political will of the people of the affected area that are going to get this going again,” Manning said.
Despite the monetary concerns over the project, Mayor Jim Burch said the UEP’s progress was not necessarily contingent on getting stimulus funds.
“To me (the economy) is the convenient reason for some on council to stop it,” Burch said in a telephone interview.
“I’m not quite sure whether it is or it isn’t,” he said when asked if getting stimulus funds for the UEP was the only hope for moving the project forward.