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Council nixes plan to expand Manatee Protection Zone to the North Spreader

By Staff | Apr 20, 2016

By a vote of 4-3 Monday night, City Council rejected an ordinance to expand the Manatee Protection Zone to the North Spreader Canal system in Northwest Cape.

Assistant City Manager Mike Ilczyszyn told council members that manatees have been observed in the canals since the Ceitus boat lift was removed in 2008. The boat lift had acted as a barrier keeping manatees out of the canal system west of Burnt Store Road and north of Ceitus Parkway.

“We have documented manatee mortality in Northwest Cape canals,” Ilczyszyn said. “There has been 12 to 19 manatee deaths in recent years determined watercraft related.”

He pointed to an increase in complaints of boats speeding in the 33 miles of canals and local enforcement restricted by state law from issuing citations.

“Designating the area a Manatee Protection Zone gives Cape PD the authority to issue citations,” Ilczyszyn said.

Not only are manatees at risk, but private boats and docks, seawalls and mangrove shoreline are being damaged by boat wakes, he said.

“I can not support this ordinance because I am concerned about losing home rule by getting other state agencies involved,” said Marilyn Stout, who made the motion to deny the ordinance. “Seven calls for boats speeding doesn’t seem like much to me.”

Ilczyszyn replied that Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission resources already are deployed to Cape Coral due to existing Manatee Zones in the South Cape’s canal system.

“They already are here helping enforce the manatee speed zones,” he said.

In Mayor Marni Sawicki’s absence, Mayor Pro Tem Rick Williams ran Monday’s meeting and offered that the FWC can bring resources to bear in the Northwest, such as signage and enforcement.

“To me it’s a no-brainer,” Williams said. “We planted new mangroves along the shoreline and 30 percent of them are already gone. Even the Seven Islands are shrinking from the waves from boats. Destruction of the canals is a huge issue.”

Councilmember Jim Burch cited the issue as related to the problems facing pre-platted communities, since state statutes limit local authorities’ enforcement to waterways less than 75 feet wide.

“As a pre-platted community most of our canals are 80 feet and larger,” Burch said. “Perhaps we need to work on correcting that through the Legislature.”

Burch, Williams and John Carioscia cast the dissenting votes while their colleagues prevailed in denying the ordinance.

By another 4-3 vote, council approved a resolution urging the state to reinstate a ban on black bear hunts. Council member Rana Erbrick, Richard Leon and Burch voted against the resolution.

FWC lifted the bear hunt ban in 2015 that had been in effect since 1994. More than 300 bears were killed in a matter of days before it was halted early.

“I am not a fan of hunting black bears, but I’m also not a fan of these feel-good resolutions coming before council,” said Erbrick.

“I’m not a fan of bear hunts either,” added Burch. “It was not handled properly and I allude to what Councilmember Erbrick said, this is not our job. We have to be judicious in using our authority. This needs to be taken up at the state level with FWC and legislators. We have no business injecting ourselves into this. We need to take up issues that directly affect our residents and the bear hunt has no affect on the city.”

An ordinance scheduled for a vote Monday for the sale of city-owned property to developer Dan Creighton was pulled from the agenda until May 16. City Manager John Szerlag said the delay gives staff time to work with traffic engineers on an alternate plan to Creighton’s proposal to install a traffic signal at Southeast 27th Street.

Staff fears a signal at that intersection would negatively impact traffic flow on Santa Barbara and spill over onto Veterans Parkway.

An ordinance introduced to council Monday will be brought back for a public hearing on May 2 that changes the Future Land Use Map of the city from commercial and residential designations to Downtown Mixed Use. The area targeted is 50 acres along Cape Coral Parkway between Coronado to Palm Tree boulevards as the first step to the Bimini Basin development project.

Sawicki’s proposed resolution to ban all city-related travel to North Carolina in response to that state’s House Bill 2 regarding transgender public bathroom use did not gain traction with council members in Sawicki’s absence.

Leon commented that North Carolina is not a home rule state and he did not have enough facts to make a decision and no other member took up the cause to move it forward to a vote.

Sawicki likely will bring the proposal back for discussion at a future council meeting, perhaps the next meeting scheduled for April 25.