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Turtles and protectors put out the lights on Fort Myers Beach

By Staff | Nov 7, 2019

A proposal emanating from a light study which would switch the Fort Myers Beach white lights on Estero Boulevard to LED white lights, was shot down by the town council after a presentation Monday.

Volunteers from Turtle Time showed up at the Town Council meeting to oppose the lights, which they worry will be detrimental to the sea turtles who nest on the beach.

Turtle Time supports switching the lights in town to Amber LED lights, which they say is used in Sanibel and is less harmful.

“The bright white LED lights that are being considered now are not turtle friendly. Just one of these lights, located three houses away from the beach cause the disorientation of an entire clutch of sea turtle hatchlings. Approximately 260 of these lights are proposed,” said Turtle Time founder and director Eve Haverfield.

Haverfield said her organization doesn’t believe in turning lights off. She said many residents and business on the beach have converted to Amber LED lights. She also said that the town should make sure that it follows state laws which prohibit harm to sea turtles.

Haverfield has been watching sea turtles since 1989 and has helped improve sea turtle nesting on the beach. Fort Myers Beach, she said, set a standard in the 1990s in the use of low-pressure sodium lights to protect turtles and residents.

David Green of Orlando-based Team Engineering conducted the lighting study, which was focused on safety. From 2013-2016, there were 378 accidents on Estero Boulevard, he said. Of those, 15 were pedestrian-related and 23 involved bicycles. There were two fatalities. A majority of the accidents occurred at night, when the lighting conditions changed.

“The biggest issue is the variance in condition,” Green said. The change in lighting on the road leads to “eye confusion” for motorists, he said. Some sections of the road can move quickly from good lighting to no lighting, what Green calls “hot spots.”

Some of the light levels on Estero Boulevard are “woefully inefficient,” he said.

Green recommended new white LED lights which will raise the overall cost slightly though he said there wouldn’t be a cost for the town to switch from the white lights currently downtown.

Town council members Rexann Hosafros and Joanne Shamp pushed against those lights, calling for the amber lights instead.

Hosafros was also not happy with the study itself, saying she would have liked to have seen other lighting options presented.

“This study isn’t very useful to us,” Hosafros said.

Council member Bruce Butcher came to the defense of the study and stressed how important lighting was to safety on Estero Boulevard. He blamed poor lighting on the road with nearly causing him to run people over who were crossing the road.

“To me, this is a super-dangerous place,” he said. “We need light improved on the beach dramatically.”

Butcher said it doesn’t matter how fast you drive.

“I’ve been driving 15 miles per hour and people cross the road and you can’t see them,” he said.

Vice Mayor Ray Murphy said “a balance can certainly be struck here.”

Murphy said it was important for the town to be “eco-friendly” while also addressing the lighting issue, with certain hot spots “particularly bad,” he said.

Murphy and the board agreed to direct Town of Fort Myers Beach Manager Roger Hernstadt to research what it would take to install the amber lights. Green said those lights will be more expensive and will require more fixtures downtown.

Lee County owns Estero Boulevard but the town is responsible for the lighting, an issue which frustrates Shamp. She believes the county should aid the town in funding lighting improvements.

Other business

– A proposal by Publix to add a liquor store at its Estero Boulevard location was put on hold until the company addresses concerns by the board regarding traffic at the supermarket.

The board wants the company to add another lane for entering and exiting the site before it considers the liquor store application. The application is also opposed by the owners of Skipper Liquors, who fear the competition will hurt them since Publix can undercut them by purchasing its items in bulk.

Murphy suggested Publix consider putting in a pharmacy at the location, which he said is needed more than a liquor store. The company is slated to return to the board Dec. 9 on the issue.