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Public demands elimination of off-refuge circulator

By Staff | Apr 20, 2011

More than 150 people attended last Wednesday's Alternative Transportation in Parks and Public Lands (ATPPL) workshop, which lasted two and a half hours.

More than 150 people came to last Wednesday’s Alternative Transportation in Parks and Public Lands (ATPPL) workshop at the Sanibel Community House, with many questions in mind and few issues resolved from previous discussions about the program.

But following the two and a half hour session, one factor had became crystal clear for all in attendance: islanders do not want buses on Sanibel.

The fifth public workshop in the ongoing ATPPL series, which began in the summer of 2008, again brought an updated collection of information and proposed transportation alternatives. The primary goal remains reducing traffic in the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, lower emissions and lessen impacts to wildlife and the environment. An additional goal of this project is to improve visitor mobility and accessibility and enhance visitor experience.

“Based on public input received at the public meeting in January of this year, the project recommendation has been revised and is now considered a Refuge-Focused Locally Preferred Alternative,” the project website states. “The project recommendations also include trail surface enhancements, a new shared-use trail, launch improvements to the Commodore Creek Canoe Trail, expanded Refuge parking, additional wildlife crossings and pedestrian crossing safety improvements.”

During Wednesday’s meeting, project manager David Baxter told the gathered crowd that although some of the maps depicting circulator routes specified proposed stops at several locations across Sanibel outside of the refuge, the program remains in the preliminary stage.

City Manager Judie Zimomra, left, addresses the Sanibel Community House crowd as David Baxter, Kris Cella and Scott Pringle look on.

“These will be tweaked as we move along in the process,” said Baxter. “The decisions that will be made will not be done in isolation … Input that we receive from the public is invaluable.”

Project spokesman Scott Pringle began his presentation, suggesting that the ATPPL study is approximately 25 percent “through the process,” adding that the next steps will include narrowing the list of transportation options and building a consensus of the preferred alternative.

“This process has been driven through public input,” said Pringle. “Up until now, we have had a lot of different visions for this project, so what we’re looking to do now is come up with a consensus plan in order to move forward in a direction that is right for Sanibel and the refuge.”

Pringle assured the crowd, who began grumbling at the mere mention of circulators (“buses”) being included on any route outside of the refuge, that there were no proposals to bring visitors from off-island locations onto Sanibel.

The ATPPL presentation was interrupted several times by audience members, who questioned how the initial program questionnaire had been conducted and how members of the program’s steering committee had been selected.

Refuge manager Paul Tritaik explains the goals of the program from the refuge perspective.

“People do not want to see a circulator going to the resorts,” said former mayor Louise Johnson.

“If you really are serious about bringing traffic down on the refuge, then you should stop allowing cars coming into the refuge another day of the week,” another member of the crowd stated. “Sanibel should be kept Sanibel… you shouldn’t try to make it another Disneyland.”

Paul Tritaik, refuge manager, explained, “We are not interested in bringing more vehicles to the refuge. What we are interested in is keeping more vehicles off the refuge and Wildlife Drive.”

Tritaik asked for a show of hands in favor of continuing the presentation, and after a nearly 50-50 split gave Pringle the go-ahead to continue his PowerPoint agenda.

The latest refinements to the ATPPL project includes eliminating any diesel-fueled circulator propulsion type as an option as well as eliminating circulator extensions to the mainland, Captiva or businesses along Periwinkle Way. However, the program came to another halt at the suggestion of any circulator being proposed off refuge property.

David Baxter, project manager for the ATPPL program, responds to a question.

“You’re insulting us — we can read!” said another member of the crowd, holding up her copy of the presentation. “We know what a hybrid vehicle is. What are you trying to do… wear us down?”

Among the 16 recommended Refuge-Focused Alternative Elements were resurfacing and restriping Wildlife Drive, surface treatment to Indigo Trail, Shell Mound Trail, Wulfert Keys Trail and Bailey Tract Trail, establishing a new trail between Tarpon Bay Explorers and Sanibel’s shared use path, several wayfinding improvements and pedestrian crossing safety enhancements.

However, all of the circulator routes proposed outside of the refuge — which included stops at four environmental institutions along Sanibel-Captiva Road as well as a number of island resorts — were shouted down.

“If you really want to protect wildlife, then you should stop allowing cars to go through Wildlife Drive,” offered resident Jim Beacham.

“Sanibel has had ‘alternative transportation’ for many years,” another person stated. “We have 24 miles of beautiful bicycle paths all over the island.”

A map detailing the Refuge Focused Alternative Elements, which includes resurfacing Wildlife Drive and surface treatment of other trails.

Several members of the crowd shared their vision for improving the refuge. Karen Storjohann suggested issuing time tickets and restricting the number of vehicles allowed to enter Wildlife Drive each day.

“My vision for Sanibel is to leave it alone,” added Lynn Campion, who noted that pedestrians and bicyclists using Wildlife Drive should be allowed to use the road in both directions.

“If (the ATPPL study) doesn’t receive the support of this community, then there’s no reason to move forward with it,” Tritaik responded to another question.

While there was no mention of a confirmed date for another public workshop, City Manager Judie Zimomra assured the audience that any plan would have to be approved by the City Council prior to being implemented.

“Do you have a flavor of how we feel now?” asked 15-year resident Joe Lombardi.

Additional information on the ATPPL study can be found online at www.dingdarlingtransportation.com.