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City declares state of emergency with adoption of resolution

By Staff | Aug 7, 2018

Kevin Ruane

The Sanibel City Council declared a local state of emergency today over water quality issues.

At its regular meeting, the council voted unanimously 5-0 to approve a proclamation and resolution declaring the state of emergency for the city. Earlier in the day, the Lee County Commission had voted in support of a request by the county’s mayors to expand on the existing state of emergency for Lee.

The city’s declaration is a step toward accessing additional funding for clean-ups and more.

Mayor Kevin Ruane explained that he met with the other mayors and they drafted the expansion request to avoid any further financial impact to Lee County and its municipalities during recovery.

According to the document, their list of “asks” of the county included providing:

– Financial assistance for cleanup of red drift algae, blue-green algae and fish kills in waterways including, but not limited to, rivers, canals, bay beaches and Gulf side beaches

– Financial assistance for businesses that can demonstrate loss of income from the environmental events including, but not limited to, red drift algae, blue-green algae and fish kills

– Financial assistance for workers and/or individuals impacted by the environmental events

– Public relations assistance in communicating daily updates during the local emergency

He presented the request before the commission on behalf of Bonita Springs Mayor Peter Simmons, Estero Mayor James Boesch, Fort Myers Beach Mayor Tracey Gore, Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello, Fort Myers Mayor Randall Henderson and Sanibel. Ruane had already spoken to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Division of Emergency Management director about an expansion on behalf of the group.

Ruane explained that the request had to be addressed on the local level for the release of aid.

He added that he was told there are two pots of funding available.

“The challenge is going to be what pot of money do we pay for what out of,” Ruane said.

The city’s resolution declaring its own state of emergency, which first had to be added to the council’s meeting agenda as a last-minute item and was in a 5-0 vote, was a follow-up to the county’s action.

Ruane noted that the other mayors plan to propose the same for their communities.

“We want to be consistent with the other Lee County municipalities,” he said.

According to its language, the city’s resolution is “an emergency measure necessary for the protection of the public health, welfare and safety, due to the Lake Okeechobee water releases by the Army Corps of Engineers causing toxic blue-green algae, as well as due to the red tide harmful algal bloom and the resulting mass kills of marine organisms.”

Ruane explained that visitors are canceling reservations, businesses are losing revenue and more because of the current conditions. The expanded state of emergencies will open to door to aid.

“We want to give them all the tools necessary,” he said.

City Manager Judie Zimomra reported that prior to the ramp up in labor and equipment over the weekend for cleaning up the island’s beaches and canals – which remained the status quo today – the city spent an average of $71,300 per day on its efforts. She noted that the figure would fluctuate.

Zimomra did not have the updated figure adding in the additional labor and equipment immediately available.

Prior to the council voting on the state of emergency resolution, Sanibel Planning Commissioner Richard Johnson spoke up during public comment. He suggested adding the language “Caloosahatchee watershed” with Lake Okeechobee releases to address both sources that are fueling the situation.

The council agreed and the document was amended.

“We need to continue to refine this,” Ruane said of the state of emergency.