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Funding for regional hurricane shelter approved

By Staff | Jun 24, 2019

Funding for a $15.7 million regional hurricane shelter off State Road 31 near the Lee County/Charlotte line has been approved.

The state appropriations bill signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday provides for a total $2.9 billion for hurricane preparedness and recovery statewide, including $8 million toward construction of the Southwest Florida Hurricane Evacuation Center at Babcock Ranch.

The proposed 75,000-square foot-facility “will provide safe shelter for at least 2,500 evacuees in an area safe from storm surge inundation zones, including residents with special needs,” a release by Babcock Ranch issued Monday states.

“Babcock Ranch’s inland location and elevation above the reach of the storm surge is an incredible advantage when it comes to storm safety,” said Syd Kitson, chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners. “Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Rep. Mike Grant – and the entire regional legislative delegation – deserve accolades for their focus on improving safe hurricane evacuation alternatives for residents in Southwest Florida. The regional shelter at Babcock Ranch was part of that vision.

“Securing state funding was a critical first step in the process, and we applaud Gov. DeSantis not only for approving the funding but for all he is doing to support storm victims and better prepare our state for future storms,” Kitson added. “With the state’s funding commitment now in place, we look forward to working with county leaders throughout the region on next steps always with the goal of improving storm safety for the region.”

“As a private partner in this effort, Babcock Ranch has committed to donate land for the shelter and cover infrastructure costs for a total contribution of $7.7 million toward the project,” the release states.

“According to the 2018 Statewide Emergency Shelter Plan for the Florida Department of Emergency Management, Southwest Florida has the largest deficit of available, suitable shelter space of any region in the state. The state reported a shelter capacity deficit of 122,948 spaces for general purpose shelters and 8,586 spaces for special needs evacuees in Charlotte, Sarasota, Lee and Collier counties.”