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Cape council mixed on boat lift resolution

By Staff | Aug 14, 2012

Cape Coral City Council opinion is mixed concerning a resolution to condemn the Board of County Commissioners for acting in “bad faith” in talks over the North Spreader Canal boat lift and barrier and thus end communication on the matter.

During the council workshop meeting Monday, an addendum was placed in the agenda for a resolution finding the county “acted in bad faith in derogation of an agreement between the city and the county, and rescinding any prior agreements with the county concerning the boat lift and barrier.”

The resolution also called the county’s adherence to a state statute, which requires the county and city to resolve their differences, a “sham.”

“Any good faith from May 15 went out the window on July 31 when they started this $500,000 lawsuit with the city,” Mayor John Sullivan said. “The data shows and the Florida DEP agrees the barrier should not be put up.”

However, Councilmember Derrick Donnell and several other members of council raised some red flags concerning the language in the resolution and that the city would take action even though only half of the 180 days have elapsed since the two sides agreed to resolve their differences. The city does not support reinstalling the barrier; the county does.

The discussion deadline is Nov. 11.

“Bad faith and derogation is making a hypothetical opinion on the BOCC actions,” Donnell said. “I have a problem with calling something a sham because if I’m on the other side, it’s still subjective. I’m not comfortable with this at this time.”

“We don’t need to use these words. And doing this now doesn’t help us. After 180 days, we’re done with this.” Councilmember Rana Erbrick said. “We can be strong without being inflammatory.”

Councilmember Kevin McGrail made his feelings about waiting obvious.

“We set an outside limit of 180 days and 90 days were spent doing nothing. We reached out to county staff, and on July 31, the BOCC decided to take $500,000 in reserves to hire Ph.D’s to refute the data. If that’s not bad faith, what is?” McGrail asked.

McGrail said the city should tell the county to deal with Florida, since the waters and mangroves are the state’s jurisdiction.

Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz questioned why the county would set money aside for a suit when it’s cutting staff and enforcing pay cuts.

“I don’t understand our leadership. It’s like they’re saying, ‘I didn’t get my way so I’ll punish you.'”

Sullivan reiterated his point from last week that Cape Coral needs to flex its muscles, which is why he wanted to keep the firm language.

“I don’t like dumbing down or softening our tone. The BOCC has been leaning on cities for years,” Sullivan said. “We need to make this as pointed as we can.”

Still, other members were not convinced, which could kill the measure if it comes to council for a vote next week.

“We promised 180 days. There’s no good or bad faith. We’re jumping to conclusions,” councilmember Marty McClain said. “We have to work with them and have to participate with them to make a community.”

“Even though the BOCC jumped the gun setting aside money, do we know the litigation is with us? The state?” Councilmember Lenny Nesta said. “We want to honor our contract no matter what.”

The FDEP rejected the boat lift replacement last year, saying the previous barrier had caused breaches to the canal system and that replacement would cause that problem again.

Despite that, in February, Lee County threatened to sue Cape Coral if the lift was not put back in.

This led to a meeting on May 15 where both sides agreed to wait 180 days for the next meeting to make sure the data was complete.

Sullivan said the meeting was constructive and that he thought they could negotiate something without the need of a lawsuit.

But on July 31, in a last-minute “blue sheet” item, the BOCC voted set aside funds for litigation if talks with the city fall through. A portion of the $500,000 set aside will be used to monitor water quality.