Guest Commentary: Southwest Florida Regional Summit takes on issues
Buzz words come and go, sometimes with great meaning attached.
Other times, a buzz word’s use simply prompts trendy conversations. The word “regionalism” comes to mind as a term that’s used by many.
Here in Southwest Florida, it’s actually being implemented successfully.
In October 2014, the commission chairs and county managers of six counties Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Sarasota met to explore issues around which policy decisions could be made for the betterment of our communities.
The meeting was known as the Southwest Florida Regional Summit.
Subsequent meetings in December in Hendry County and again Feb. 13 in Charlotte County produced a common legislative agenda.
Clean water and flood insurance currently top the priority list with the region’s economy, tourism and transportation infrastructure also getting our attention.
A priority of all the counties at the summit was the issue of water quality, water supply, flood protection and environmental enhancement.
While each county has lists of local projects to address specific needs, the collective summit was able to endorse a list of regional projects and advocated for legislative funding to support that end.
Regional projects range in scope from the construction of the C-43 reservoir, a critical Everglades restoration project, which will provide much-needed water quality benefits to the Caloosahatchee River and Estuary, to major septic system replacement programs in Sarasota County that will improve conditions in Phillippi Creek.
From all accounts this looks to be a banner year for water projects in the Florida Legislature and our region is poised and ready to collectively advocate for worthy projects.
In flood insurance and mapping, we are encouraged and maybe a little inspired by last year’s successful Washington, D.C., trip, which helped overhaul the Biggert-Waters flood insurance act.
We’ll visit Washington again this year on Feb. 25 with an even more unified regional voice. In addition to asking federal lawmakers to keep an eye on the continuing study of flood insurance affordability, we are urging them to consider the underlying flood mapping issues, specifically:
* Allow early, local review of the flood modeling process;
* In the short-term, increase FEMA funds for pending map appeals and corrections in Southwest Florida;
* And in the long-term, insist on rigorous oversight and increased transparency of FEMA’s Flood Insurance Rate Map processes to control the rising expense of Federal contracting for insurance rate map production.
Other additional common points made at the Southwest Florida Regional Summit include:
Economics: Regional economic alliances and participation are keys to all of us moving forward with job development in our respective counties. Lee and Collier counties will share partnership language they have developed or are drafting with the other four counties.
Tourism: Each county has a niche to offer examples include Sarasota with its rowing facility, Hendry with its sky-diving opportunities and Charlotte with its Florida Tracks & Trails. Unified marketing of niche outdoor adventure sports will be further explored.
Transportation infrastructure: Each county is grappling with unfunded needs in their Capital Improvement Project budgets for roads.
Collectively the region needs to ask that the Florida Department of Transportation be better funded and more cognizant of the connectivity of our region while we as county leaders support the Florida Association of Counties in its quest to bring attention to the simple question: Where will the money come from for our road building needs?
Last year, there was a lot of talk about the “unintended effects” of the Biggert-Waters flood insurance act.
One of those, however, actually benefitted us. It was the surprising discovery of what we can accomplish with a unified voice.
That’s merely one example. Join us. Support these priorities and echo them in your own interactions with State and Federal legislators and local officials.
Lee County Commissioner Larry Kiker represents District 3 and is the BoCC’s liaison for the Southwest Florida Regional Summit series.