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Commission continues Ceitus until after hiatus

By Staff | Jun 25, 2013

The Board of County Commis-sioners voted Tuesday to continue a consent item, which would have granted a contract of more than $280,000 to collect more data on the North Spreader area, until after commissioners returns from hiatus next month.

Commissioner John Manning said he wanted the item moved until August so the county’s consultant can speak to staff to rework the scope.

“I think there are still questions out there that need to be answered,” Manning, whose district includes Cape Coral and Pine Island, said.

Commissioner Tammy Hall said she was concerned over losing a month’s worth of data collection, especially during a critical month during rainy season.

“These are task driven. It’s not a study to study. The reason we’re here is a lack of data,” said Hall, whose district includes the Cape and North Fort Myers. “We extended this to have a dry collection and wet collection.”

Roland Ottolini, Lee County natural resources director, said he’s heard no argument of the scope, that it’s exactly what they need to do.

“If we’re going to spend money in the public’s trust, we need this level of detail,” Ottolini said.

The study would include new data collection on top of the data they already have, Ottolini said. It would conduct bathametric studies, cross-sections of breaches, and study tidal flow, direction, and establish a model where it can simulate conditions with the data they have.

“That’s going to be a valuable tool for us to look at options of opening breaches or putting a lift or other options in the watershed area,” Ottolini said. “This is the result of the settlement agreement. This is what we agreed to under the mediation agreement.”

Manning and Hall continued to disagree over the scope of the project. Manning was concerned over what he perceived as a reduction in scope, while Hall was concerned over the qualifications of Kevin Irwin overseeing things, saying he was hired as an “umbrella.”

All the commissioners agreed they have been worn out by the way this has dragged.

“I’m not a happy camper about this issue coming back in this manner. I’m just asking to get all the players together and come up with a scope of work and bring it back to this board,” Manning said. “You don’t have to stop working.”

Ottolini dissented with that assertion. But Commissioner Frank Mann said he was reluctant to spend another $280,000 so another group of scientists can argue their side is right.

“This is the most exasperating issue I’ve experienced in my time on the board,” Mann said. “I don’t share the concern of another five weeks in order to make sure the next step is meaningful. We’re no closer to a solution than we were five years ago.”

The motion to continue passed 4-1, with Hall objecting.

Even before the discussion, the commission heard a great deal of input on the subject. Rae Ann Wessel of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, said not enough information had been made public, so they don’t know what will happen with the $1.5 million in escrow funds the city of Cape Coral and Lee County deposited.

Phil Buchanan, a Pine Island environmentalist, said they were committing a national Clean Water Act violation and that federal court intervention is inevitable. He did agree they needed more data.

“But asking the same contractors the same questions and expecting different answers is not reasonable,” said Buchanan, who suggested scientists from FGCU, a suggestion that most were receptive to.

“The Lee County government will either be part of the solution or part of the problem,” Buchanan added.

Hall said that two people coming forward to address the commission does not mean a consensus. Still, she is adamant Lee County will provide a solution.

“There are key weather conditions I don’t want to miss the opportunity to see what they are,” Hall said. “The goal is to do the right thing and have the right water quality with or without the lift.”