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Water Quality campaign goes into overdrive

By Staff | Apr 5, 2012

Photo by JIM LINETTE Mayor Kevin Ruane takes the oath of office after being reelected to serve a second term by a vote of his fellow Sanibel City Council members. His wife, Doreen, holds the Bible for the ceremony.

Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane was reelected to serve a second term as mayor and Vice Mayor Mick Denham likewise will serve another term in his role on the City Council.

The five-member City Council votes once a year in April to elect one of their own to take on the expanded duties as Mayor and Vice Mayor. Ruane and Denham took new Oaths of Office at the start of Tuesday’s City Council meeting at City Hall before conducting other business.

The blockbuster announcement of the meeting was posed by Denham through his water quality campaign discussion.

“We must continue to fight for clean water,” Denham said. “All 50 communities now have fertilizer ordinances, but we must go on the offense.”

Denham proposes a two-pronged program through legislative channels and an education strategy.

“We have to control all harmful discharges by gaining the authority for local city and county governments to regulate it on a regional basis,” said Denham. “We have to show the public that there are alternatives for fertilizing their lawns.”

Denham wants to earn regional support for a state bill to take to the next Florida Legislature session.

The idea has roots in fertilizer legislation in recent years as well as the South Florida Water Management District’s recent decision to stop all freshwater flow from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River Estuary. SFWMD’s decision leads to toxic algae blooms and fish kills in addition to the excessive levels of fertilizer nutrients dumped into our waterways through rainwater runoff.

Denham’s details earned preliminary approval of all councilmen as well as several residents who expressed an opinion to the dais.

It is an ambitious undertaking given the fact Denham wants to have appropriate language drafted for the bill by the next council meeting on May 1. With council’s backing, he will take it to regional governmental bodies to win their support and line up state bill sponsorship.

“I want this to be a regional thing, not just for Sanibel,” Denham said. “The intent is not to make it statewide, but when other regions see and like the idea it surely will spread.”

Two proposed trail extensions came before council for approval Tuesday and both the Community Park path at Frannie’s Preserve and the Pond Apple Park connection to the Shipley Trail projects will move forward.

The Community Park path is a half-mile long project at a cost of $5,800. Most of the cost, according to James Evans of the Natural Resources Department, is to construct an information booth and put up signage along the path.

The Pond Apple Park project carries a heftier price tag of $200,000. Boardwalk stretches necessary through wetlands areas helps raise the cost of construction. SCCF, however, has stepped up to share the cost 50-50 with the city, confirmed by SCCF Natural Resource Director Rae Ann Wessel before council. The city also has applied for grants to help cover the cost.

“We can’t count on the grants,” said Ruane. “We will have to put it in our budget, and more likely send it through two budget cycles.”

The city has been offered the opportunity to purchase a parcel of land along Tarpon Bay Road between Sanibel Captiva Road and a vacant former restaurant building that adjoins SCCF Sanibel Gardens preserve property.

Ruane said city staff will be asked to do its “due diligence” to evaluate and assess the property with regard to development or added to the preservation area before “spending taxpayer dollars” in a tight economy.

Council made several appointments Tuesday, including that of John Talmage to the Sanibel Planning Commission. Talmage will fill the unexpired term (until January 2014) of Paul Reynolds, who submitted a letter of resignation which the council also approved. Talmage won the appointment by a 3-2 vote of the councilmembers over two other candidates.

With the retirement last month of Public Works Director Gates Castle, council had to appoint a replacement for his unexpired term on the General Employees’ Retirement Plan Board of Trustees. Members ratified City Manager Judy Zimomra’s appointment of Harold Law to that board seat.

Council proposed to expand the Financial Assistance Committee by adding two members, bringing the total on the committee to seven. Nancy Bender and Richard McCurry were appointed by council to serve on the Financial Assistance Committee. In addition, Ann Talcott resigned from the Vegetation Committee and Denny Jones stepped down from the Parks & Recreation Committee.

The paving of Nerita Street will move forward since council approved a resolution for the creation of a special assessment to residents to fund the public improvement of the dusty conditions of the unpaved roadway. The project first came to light in the mid-1990s. It was brought up and stalled several times since. The City of Sanibel will pay one-third the cost of the project with the residents being assessed for the remainder.

Residents along the road have spoken out both for and against the paving many times and did so again before council Tuesday. In the end, council approved the project to go forward.