Fort Myers Beach Mayor Alan Mandel provided the Town Council's annual report by addressing issues that envelop three different surfaces: land, air and sea. He reinforced maintaining a relationship with outside sources to tackle major issues.
Mandel did so through his 'State of the Town' address at the Greater Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Charley's Boat House Grill last Thursday.
"This Council has achieved many things this year," he said. "One thing that is important to know is that we don't control a lot of these area issues, so we have to work with other people outside the boundaries of our island. We have got to maintain the relationships that have been built to make sure these major issues are taken care of."
Beach Mayor Alan Mandel speaks about Town issues and the continued need to maintain relationships with county, state and federal representatives to achieve fruition with matters.
Accomplishments on land involve much of the Beach infrastructure, such as ongoing major repair to the island's decrepit potable water system on side streets and future Estero Boulevard work.
"That is a program that will take somewhere between five and seven years to complete," said Mandel. "It will provide safe and reliable water to drink and probably better water pressure too. That will probably be an $18 million project when it's done."
Concurrently, storm water management is another land project under way. A $700,000 FEMA grant is financially aiding that work.
"That Phase I storm water management project has to be complete by April, and I understand it is on time," said Mandel. "'This overall project will literally mitigate those (Lake Estero or Lake Andre Mar) conditions. It's also going to take time. Future Councils will have to approve and fund the rest of that program."
Council has collaborated with County officials to nearly wrap up Estero Boulevard preliminary design work. The actual road work, which will provide storm water management and sidewalks as well as bike paths or shared bike paths on both sides of the street, is expected in the next fiscal year.
"The program for Estero Boulevard, at least five sections of it, is underway," said Mandel. "There were many, many workshops along the way. Progress has been made. Council gave County officials a list of six or seven concerns, and all of those have been accepted and incorporated into the plan going forward."
Another part of land issue that the Town does not own but officials must tirelessly collaborate with is San Carlos Boulevard, Matanzas Pass Bridge and the first section of Estero Boulevard from that bridge to Crescent Street. Florida Department of Transportation is the major player in those surface areas.
Mandel stated he has met with state and local FDOT officials, and a major commitment has been promised. As previously reported, FDOT will fund and prepare a plan for those roadways.
"The FDOT plan down at that bottleneck (bridge to Crescent Street) may help mitigate traffic. Wouldn't it be nice if, rather than an hour or an hour and a half to get off the island, it would only take a half an hour? There's a very strong sense to move this along. They are putting the money behind it, so it's going to happen."
After the breakfast, Mandel called to say that Carmen Monroy, the director of the Southwest Area Office at Florida Department of Transportation, reiterated the work her office is doing is not another study, but is in fact an action plan. Three cameras will be installed (two on San Carlos Boulevard and one on Estero Boulevard neat Crescent Street) to view the traffic situation. They are also looking at other beach communities to see how traffic is mitigated at those locations.
Under his air reference, Mandel cited his recent discussion with the Lee County Port Authority and the Federal Aviation Administration (see: page 1 story) about Beach overflight issues. FAA has nearly completed reviewing Federal Aviation Regulation Part 150 Noise Study recommendations.
"We approved it, the County commissioners approved it and the FAA has been studying it. It has been in Atlanta for about eight months and gone over in great detail," he said.
Under sea, Mandel spoke about water quality from our river to our estuaries and FEMA flood insurance rates that have faced stiff premium increases. Hours after the breakfast, the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed the same HR 3370 bill (one that will suspend rules of Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act regarding homeowner flood insurance) that the House approved two weeks ago.
"In my mind, those two things probably more than any other two things are the two most important things that will impact our island," he said. "Both are controlled at the state level and the federal level."
Mandel discussed his recent trips to Washington D.C. and the interactions and meetings he had with many political heads there about the two issues, particularly ecological and economical concerns with water quality and bill language to include secondary homes and commercial property in the delay of flood insurance rate hikes.
"Future councils need to make sure that they continue to look outside our boundaries and stay active," he said. "On the FEMA issue, I believe flood insurance rates are (more important) than the water quality, because I don't think there would be too many of us here to notice what has happened to water quality if the flood insurance rates don't change. We have to keep the focus on Washington D.C."
Keeping in touch with representatives in the Florida League of Cities and the National League of Cities is also important, says Mandel.
"This gives us other communities to align with so that we speak with a bigger voice," he said. "So much of what we need to do going forward is to stay in touch with the Lee County Board of Commissioners, FDOT, the Florida League of Cities and the National League of Cities. That's where all the decisions will be made that affect our quality of life."
After hearing the speaker, Beach Chamber Chairman John Gavin agreed Fort Myers Beach has huge challenges ahead.
"We are a small town with big town challenges," he said.