Safety concerns at bridge amplified with COVID-19
UPDATE: At today’s meeting, the Captiva Community Panel voted 11-0 to draft a formal letter and resolution to send to Lee County and the Lee County Board of County Commissioners requesting that the Blind Pass Bridge be closed to fishing, with the reasoning, community concerns and photos included in the packet. The panel will note that it is open to allowing fishing on the Gulf side only, if it can be done safely.
As the Captiva Community Panel continues to push for change regarding fishing on the Blind Pass Bridge due to safety concerns, some are pointing out that COVID-19 has only enhanced the situation.
At the end of last year, the panel approached Lee County about prohibiting fishing off of the bridge, explaining that fishermen and their gear occupy most of walkway, forcing pedestrians, families with strollers and such to have to walk outside of the concrete barrier-lined path, next to passing vehicles.
The panel also suggested creating an ADA-accessible fishing structure as a replacement.
The county responded by offering to install plastic poles between the edge of the traffic lanes and concrete barrier – essentially designating a four-foot-wide area for pedestrian and bike traffic – while allowing the fishermen to continue to use the walkway between the barrier and edge of the bridge.
The panel responded with two counter-proposals: allow fishing off only the bridge’s Gulf side, reserving the other side as a pedestrian-bike pathway; or remove the existing barrier and install a new, removable concrete barrier along the edge of the traffic lanes to basically make the path wider.
The county reportedly “did not have a positive reaction” to the suggestions.
Last month, panel President David Mintz reached out to county officials and asked them to close the bridge to fishing in light of the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, but no action was taken.
“The issue has been raised with a number of county officials and department heads, with proposals and counter-proposals made,” panel Administrator Ken Gooderham said on May 6. “As of now, it remains unresolved.”
Panel Member Mike Mullins, who frequently walks the area with his wife, explained that the bridge’s walkway is about 5 feet wide, so one cannot maintain the recommended 6-foot social distance.
“Frankly, it’s an obstacle course on a good day. But with COVID-19, it’s impossible to walk by, except on heavily trafficked Captiva Drive,” he said. “We’re always walking out on the street with traffic.”
Mullins added that where people are forced to walk is not for pedestrians; it is the bicycle lane.
“The fishermen don’t feel an obligation to keep a clear path,” he said.
Mullins shared the story of one walker who could not get through the walkway due to the fishing equipment and poles, so he started to climb over the barrier to use the bike lane instead, only to trip and fall. He said the man fell toward incoming traffic, but lucky for him the traffic was light that day.
“It really is a pedestrian walking path, it’s not a fishing pier,” Mullins said, noting that the county decided not to reopen facilities like the Matanzas Bridge Fishing Pier when it opened beaches and such because it would be hard to ensure proper social distancing. “It just drives more fishermen here.”
“They have to keep those paths entirely clear,” he added of those fishing at Blind Pass.
According to Mullins, he recently reached out to Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass to discuss the situation – in particular, considering the inability to social distance on the bridge. He said the commissioner was unaware of the problem and even offered a novel suggestion: divide the bridge between pedestrians and fishermen, one to each side – the same solution that the panel suggested.
“He thought that he would support that,” Mullins said.
He reported that he also reached out to Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane, who then contacted the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. Mullins said there was a higher law enforcement presence on the next day.
“The deputies have been trying to tell them to keep their gear to one side,” he said.
The panel had its monthly meeting on May 12 and was expected to discuss the situation again.