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Council will discuss weigh station plans

By Staff | May 13, 2009

During the City Council’s June 2 meeting, local leaders are expected to spend a fair amount of time talking about the possibility of bringing back a weigh station to help financially support road maintenance and infrastructure improvements on the island.

While the notion has been brought up to council several times over the past two years, it appears that the most recent suggestion will be given some serious consideration.

At their last session, on May 5, resident Karen Storjohann asked councilors to consider bringing back a weigh station as an income-generator for the city. The original weigh station, which officially closed on June 30, 2007, brought in more than $800,000 annually during its peak in the early part of the century. However, revenues dipped to less than $500,000 in 2005.

“This has been brought up before, but it’s up to my fellow councilmen to show an interest in bringing that idea back,” Mayor Mick Denham said during the meeting.

Last May, Denham submitted estimates of how much a new weigh station on the island would cost the city, since it received several notices from Lee County officials that they did not want Sanibel to build a facility at any of the suggested off-island locations, including the original site on Causeway Island B. According to those figures, $200,000 would be needed to construct the building, $185,950 was necessary for road and shared use path construction, $19,990 would go towards architectural designs and $15,000 would be needed for the sewer installation and connection.

The total estimate for all work needed for the project was $440,906.

In addition, Metro Scale & Systems provided an estimate of $71,100 for the materials and installation of devices necessary to operate a weigh station. Another $1,500 would be needed to purchase a computer and typical software, plus DSL connection to City Hall ($90 per month) and a telephone line ($45 per month).

“This consideration of a weigh station is critical because the revenue we used to have will never return to the levels we have seen in the past,” councilman Peter Pappas said on May 5.

During the last five years of its operation, the revenue generated from the weigh station averaged approximately $556,000 annually, peaking at $898,405 in 2002. But during its final six months, the station only brought in $217,739, which would come to about $435,500 over a 12-month period.

During the council’s discussion of the matter last spring, Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane said that he “was not convinced” that the station’s costs wouldn’t outweigh the revenues intended.

“I’m sure we’ll do the best we can to camouflage this, [but] when you come onto the island and one of the first impressions you have is there is a weigh station?” he said at the time. “I’m struggling with some things. I’m not necessarily convinced about this concept.”

Also, former councilwoman Carla Johnston pointed out hidden costs, like possible reductions of property values which would be affected by the noise, how long it would take the station to pay for itself and pollution.

The idea was eventually dismissed.

Back in February of 2007, when the city had just received an order from the Lee County Department of Transportation to evacuate and remove the weigh station building from the causeway, engineering firm VanesseDaylor submitted a report which identified six possible locations for a new weigh station:

Along McGregor Boulevard (before the Sanibel Toll Plaza)

Adjacent to the Toll Plaza (currently the Punta Rassa Boat Ramp parking area)

On Causeway Island B (at the location of the previous weigh station)

Immediately following Causeway Span C

Behind the Sanibel & Captiva Chamber of Commerce

Beyond the Chamber of Commerce property (now Pond Apple Trail)

County officials immediately dismissed the three off-island locations, meaning that if a new station were to be constructed, Sanibel would have to go it alone.

After some discussion, the council agreed that the most viable location for a weigh station on the island would be to the right of Causeway Road immediately following Span C.

Residents of that area of the island balked at the idea, stating that they were worried not only about the visual blight the station would be, but the additional noise, pollution and traffic congestion the site would endure.

City staff received architectural renderings of how the site might appear. Instead of a pre-fabricated metal structure like the original station, a new facility would be designed to blend in with a tropical-motif structure, hidden behind a thick vegetation buffer which would reduce noise as well.

“The landscaping would be designed to improve the visual appearance of the gateway to Sanibel,” VanesseDaylor’s report stated.

The then-Mayor Johnston saw another problem with the selection of the post-causeway parcel.

“‘Welcome to our sanctuary weigh station.’ Does Sanibel really want the first thing people see as they come onto the island to be a weigh station? It seems to me to be a problem,” she said at the time.

At their last meeting, councilman Jim Jennings suggested that there now exists advanced technologies, such as sensors embedded underneath the pavement, which could replace the traditional appearance of a weigh station. A building for the station operator, which must include a restroom, would still be necessary.

But as councilors continue to look “outside the box” for all possible income streams for the city, the idea of bringing a weigh station on Sanibel property is an option that will undoubtedly draw a large amount of interest as budget talks this summer loom on the horizon.

The City Council will next meet at MacKenzie Hall, located at 800 Dunlop Road, starting at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, May 19. All members of the public are invited to participate in the session.