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Under pier review

Judge holds deposition hearing for Hercules Pier appeal

August 29, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

After three years, Coconut Drive is almost complete again: its community pier is nearly finished.

But for the neighbors on Hercules, they could still be waiting for months before construction can start on their pier - if it happens at all.

The two property owners whose properties would be adjacent to the re-installed pier are fighting against the rebuild. They filed an appeal against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's approval of the Town of Fort Myers Beach's request to build the Hercules Pier into Estero Bay.

Article Photos

In advance of the deposition Thursday, Hercules Drive residents showed their support for restoring the pier that was torn down in 2015.

Michael Steck and Allen and Cynthia Shanosky stated in their appeal they believe replacing the pier will create a navigational hazard.

A hearing, presided over by Administrative Law Judge D.R. Alexander, was held at Town Hall Thursday.

Attorney Ralf Brookes represented Steck and the Shanoskys. Carson Zimmer, assistant counsel for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, represented FDEP. John Turner represented the Town of Fort Myers Beach.

As part of the proceedings, Zimmer, Brookes and Turner both brought experts in for testimony, as well as witnesses to give testimony to their sides. The three attorneys then interviewed each person who sat to give testimony, as did Alexander.

After the full-day of testimony and cross-examination, Alexander must get a transcript of the meeting, then the attorneys will have 30 days to file orders before it goes back to the DEP to reconsider its original approval and either uphold that approval or deny it. Alexander said that process will continue for "a couple months from now," and if the DEP upholds the approval, the property owners could take the issue to appellate court.

Steck has owned his property since 2002. He said he visits it two to three weeks in a year.

The Shanoskys bought their property in 1999. It was first a vacation home, but the family plans to move there permanently.

The former Hercules Pier was in existence when the two property owners purchased their land.

The Shanoskys said they began to have an issue with the pier when it was extended, as it made it more challenging for them to dock their boat. Allen and Cynthia testified that during one attempt to navigate to their dock, they hit their own piling and cracked the hull of their 24-foot jet boat.

"I don't want to see my kids injured. I'm very concerned about it," she said. "When the town pier was there, we had to come in perpendicular if it were shorter, it would be easier. We have no objection to a shorter (pier)."

Steck used to store a trimaran - a three-hulled catamaran - at his property. He said it has been several years since the boat has been docked at Fort Myers Beach, but that it's difficult to steer into his dock if there is a strong current.

The two piers were torn down in fall 2015 under the direction of former Public Works Director Scott Baker. They had been in existence on both streets for decades - aerial photos from 1944 reveal the Hercules pier standing strong out in Estero Bay; it was added on to later to extend it.

The two neighborhoods petitioned the Fort Myers Beach Town Council to rectify the situation and rebuild their community centerpieces, along with Delmar Avenue residents, who wanted an improvement on their observation deck. In 2016, the council agreed, setting aside $150,000 to do the three projects.

On May 24, 2017, Public Works staff held a public meeting at Town Hall to get resident input about their proposed replacements, which were the same footprint as the previous piers but with added handrailing and ADA accessible features.

No one in attendance at that meeting raised any objections to adding the pier back to their street - but the Stanoskys, and then Steck, decided to file the appeal to the FDEP earlier this year.

Brookes brought in Captain John Timmel, a Tampa Bay harbor pilot with an extensive list of marine-related association roles, licenses and qualifications. A harbor pilot guides ships in and out of harbors.

Timmel said, in his opinion, it would be especially difficult for Steck to navigate the trimaran into his own dock with the Hercules pier present with a stronger current, and only slightly less difficult for the Stanoskys under the same conditions. If the water was calm, he said the pier would create an impediment. Upon questioning from Turner, Timmel said he did not conduct a scientific test to get to that conclusion; he did a land and water site inspection, but when he was there, there was a very lax current.

"The witness knows his way around a big boat, I'm not disputing that," Turner said. "My concern is how be extrapolates an opinion from that experience. He's not an engineer."

Alexander asked Timmel if the trimaran was "an unusually large boat" for someone to keep at a private dock. Timmel told the judge a trimaran was uncommon, but its length of about 40 feet is not and is a growing trend. At the Tampa Yacht Club, an 80-slip facility, Timmel estimated there were only two triple-hulled vessels anchored there.

"People are getting bigger boats," he said. "They're on the increase, but they're not overly common."

When Alexander asked, Timmel said he thought navigating with the Hercules pier would be significantly easier in a single-hulled boat of the same length as Steck's trimaran.

Turner called in Mike Kincaid of Coastal Construction, an engineering firm that designs marine structures, like docks. Kincaid helped to design the Hercules and Coconut piers.

Kincaid said when he was designing the two docks - to their pre-existing footprint, per the town's request - he took into account wind, currents, facility location, navigation, boat traffic, needed clearances, and other factors needed to engineer a functional pier, as well as local, state and federal codes. He said he does 20 to 30 similar project a year.

He found during his design that if Steck parks his boat on the side of his own dock, he's actually encroaching into the town's riparian line and right of way, but that he had enough room to park it at the end of his dock.

Based on his engineering, which included calculations for clearance needs of the two properties on either side of the pier as well as the main channel in Estero Bay, the Hercules pier shouldn't cause an issue.

"It's not a hazard. It doesn't extend into the waterway, and is not longer than adjacent docks," he said.

Hercules residents in favor of the pier filled the chamber on Thursday. There was no opportunity for public comment, but they came as a show of numbers to show the neighborhood support for their community pier. Mitch and Mary Pacyna brought two posters filled with photos of their neighborhood enjoying the pier before they were torn down.

Before the deposition, neighbors also placed "save our pier" signs in their yards.

Mark Taylor, a property owner on the street, cleared his schedule to sit in the Chamber all day to listen to the proceedings.

"I'm not at work, because this is a very important cause for the neighborhood," he said.

He purchased a home there for his mother to retire in - with the pier on one side and a beach access across Estero Boulevard, it's a bay-to-beach access property.

Taylor is worried that losing the pier will also impact real estate values, but also, it's a personal thing: he misses taking his kids out on the pier after dinner with his mom, watching the boats go by and enjoying the water as well as talking to the neighbors who are out there too, fishing or just going for a stroll.

"We've been denied that amenity for three years," he said. "Coconut is almost done, but because of two neighbors, one who doesn't live here and one who's part time, we don't have that amenity."

 
 

 

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