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Cape softens tone to county in boat lift row

By Staff | Aug 18, 2012

A week after the some members the Cape Coral City Council angrily denounced the Lee County Board of Commissioners concerning the North Spreader Canal boat lift, they have apparently taken the advice of other members and taken a step back.

Meanwhile, a county commissioner is saying that, contrary to what many have read, there is no intent for the BOCC to sue the city.

The council will bring forth a resolution during its regular meeting Monday urging the BOCC to work with council to resolve the issues on the matter.

This is in stark contrast to the tone of the addendum brought to council at its workshop meeting last week, which accused the BOCC of “acting in bad faith in derogation” and that no more discussions be taken.

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

On, July 31, the BOCC put aside $500,000 from county reserves on the issue. Of that, $150,000 was to purchase equipment to monitor the water quality and the impact that removing the boat lift has had on the canal. The rest was allocated in case the issue couldn’t be resolved and the county decided to go to court.

The city felt the action was in conflict with the agreement the two sides had to work in “good faith” to hammer out a solution within 180 days.

The new resolution softens the tone, saying the BOCC has “acted unilaterally rather than collaboratively with the city” and that their actions “may indicate a lack of regard for state law governing environmental permitting.”

“That was the intent of it. To tone it down and soften the wording. We have to work with them,” Councilmember Lenny Nesta said. “I believe in contracts, 180 days is 180 days. Who’s to say the suit is against Cape Coral or the FDEP?”

At last week’s workshop meeting, Mayor John Sullivan, and council members Chris Chulakes-Leetz and Kevin McGrail expressed outrage at the BOCC, saying the resolution brought forward truly expressed their feelings.

However, council members Nesta, Marty McClain, Rana Erbrick, and Derrick Donnell were concerned with the resolution’s wording, that they should wait 180 days before action was taken, and that there wasn’t any proof the BOCC was planning to sue anybody.

“Are we going to sit on the dais and assume?” Nesta asked.

According to Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall, the county has no intent of litigation and that she will fight it if she has to.

“Lee County isn’t suing anyone. If anyone says something else, it’s rhetoric,” Hall said. “I’m not here to sandbag Cape Coral. I live in Cape Coral. And I’m not going to allow (a suit) to happen.”

Hall said it was a situation where something someone perceived as fact got distorted.

“Some reporter hears what he/she wants to hear and another person tells someone what he perceives and it all gets blown out of context,” Hall said. “People see one road and want to stay on that road. If there’s another road, they don’t want to go down it.”

Hall said this has been a hot issue since 2008, when the boat lift was removed, and that the BOCC found the FDEP findings erroneous and that their side has presented data to support their claims.

According to the timeline written in the resolution:.

* On May 11, 2011, the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection denied an application of a permit from Cape Coral to reconstruct the boatlift at the North Spreader Canal, saying that it would adversely impact the canal.

* The county and citizen groups appealed the FDEP, but on June 27 and July 15, 2011, the denial was upheld and not subject to further appeal.

* On Oct. 25, 2011, the BOCC adopted a resolution to initiate a conflict resolution with the city under Florida Statutes which required good faith negotiations.

* On Nov. 18, 2011 and Feb. 7, 2012, representatives of the city and county met where, the resolution says, the city presented scientific data showing the boatlift and barrier would be detrimental to the health of the canal, whereas the county had not.

* After a March 13 meeting was canceled because the county did not furnish data it said it would provide, a May 15 meeting was held, where both sides agreed it would resolve the conflict within 180 days.

* On May 18, June 20 and June 27, the city contacted the county for further discussion, but that the county still hadn’t presented its data.

* On July 31, the county agreed to meet with the city “sometime in late September or early October, the resolution said.

* But that day, the BOCC, in a blue sheet item, approved an appropriation of $500,000 for data collection and for preparing a case of litigation to reinstall the lift, according to the resolution.

Hall said she was unaware the money was going to be used as a “war chest” for future litigation, and said she was going to ask for that money to be put back.