Officials support plan to renourish Fort Myers Beach
Lee County and the town of Fort Myers Beach agreed to a modified beach renourishment plan Tuesday.
Due to the inability to secure enough easements from beachfront property owners, county and town officials opted for an alternative to the original 4.6-mile project, one that would design and construct a modified project without federal funding and center on the primary county coastal infrastructure including Lynn Hall and Bowditch Beach parks and the navigational channel into Matanzas Pass.
Both county and town boards decided during separate meetings Monday that the modified plan was better suited for the current situation, before coming to the joint consensus Tuesday.
The plan now is to try to secure more easements before the third week of January and a possible vote to approve the accepted plan, or Option C.
The other options would have been to terminate the project work or construct the project as originally envisioned.
Option A would have released the state DEP appropriations for other Florida beach projects and kept the vulnerability of the critically eroded shoreline on the north end of the island.
Option B would have caused the previous project to be more costly, complicated and less effective with gaps and increased county funding. It included finalizing construction plans and hiring a contractor to build the project with whatever obtainable easements.
“There was approximately 12 to 14 parcels that had either rescinded their easement or said no,” said Tammy Hall, chairwoman of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. “But recognizing that, we would not engage in a federal project. It would be a state navigation project and Tourist Development Council project. Recognizing that we couldn’t make the whole project work, we had to downsize based on the budget we could afford.”
Due to the modified version, the cost of the project will now be cut from more than $10 million to roughly $4 million.
“I think it’s evident that it’s unfortunate that the Fort Myers Beach community will remain vulnerable and exposed to be not eligible for future FEMA funding,” said Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah. “But we need to protect the public assets such as Bowditch and Lynn Hall parks and the fishing pier.”
There was some unsuccessful discussion on “voluntary duning,” which was inconsistent with Lee County’s comprehensive plan that requires dunes and vegetation to be planted.
Another discussion centered on the second, critically eroded part of the island — the Newton Park property area — but without easement securing in the area, the problem still exists.
“If we don’t find a way to protect that area, which is right in the center of the island, a storm can eventually cut our island in half,” said Fort Myers Beach Councilman Tom Babcock.
Even though the previous plan called for beach nourishment efforts as far south as Sterling Avenue, Judah is still optimistic the modified version will help the island’s most eroded area.
“There is certainly a strong likelihood that we will be able to move forward with the beach renourishment project from Bowditch to and including the fishing pier and, quite possibly, further south predicated on securing additional easements,” he said.
In late April, the county executed an inter-local agreement with the town “to define roles and responsibilities for implementation” of the long-standing original project. Key parcels on Fort Myers Beach were identified and easements were solicited.
Since then, three mailings, one workshop, one radio show and more than 24 meetings with individual property owners, as well as a easement rescission clause, were involved in the project’s scope. As a result, the easements went from 63.4 percent to 42.4 percent to 49.7 percent, according to county records.
Since there was difficulty securing easements and the expiration of a $2 million Department of Environmental Protection state fund for the project at the end of 2009, both groups chose the modified project which would “reduce the dredge frequency requirement of the channel” and “stabilize the northern end of the island by construction of the terminal groin.”
Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker said the proposed groin should be considered an important part in the scope of the modified project because of its protection of Matanzas Pass.
“This is an introduction of what I would call new technology,” he said. “I’m hoping there will be money made available to look at and invest in this technology so that we really don’t have to go through this type of program again. We’re looking forward to this being done in a natural process.”