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Guest opinion: North Spreader – Ceitus Barrier/Boatlift

August 11, 2012
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

At the Aug. 6, 2012 Cape Coral City Council meeting we finally saw a glimmer of sanity regarding the North spreader or Ceitus barrier/boatlift issue. David Scott, Nate Bliss, Rick Williams, and Oliver Clarke provided a good synopsis of the situation. I'd long wondered why the City was catering to the Lee BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) to the extent they are. I guess it was "bending over backwards" to avoid a lawsuit, even though there really isn't a basis for one.

All scientific/technical data collected or generated by analyses during the NSEMA (North Spreader Ecological Management Agreement) process indicated not only proposed NEB (Net Ecological Benefit) projects were far better for the ecosystem, but replacing the barrier would probably be detrimental to it. This was borne-out when, in accordance with requirements of the NSEMA process, City made application to FDEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) to replace the barrier. Several iterations later, City/FDEP could not find technologically feasible ways to do it or justify it. At the first of several City/County meetings, prompted by county's announcement of intent to sue the city, the city presented the technical rationale for its position and asked the county to produce theirs. County couldn't, thus beginning a string of meetings to provide them the opportunity to do so. At most of these, County presented nothing - a frustrating waste of time.

The last meeting was May 15, a combined Cape Coral City Council/Lee County BOCC meeting held in the Cape. County offered a consultant presentation attacking analyses performed during the NSEMA process, but was still unable to show analytically or technically any benefit from barrier replacement. Consultant's criticism of the NSEMA modeling analyses was ill-founded and showed total misunderstanding of its purpose and value. She criticized the model as not being thorough or accurate enough to provide absolute answers. Even if it was possible to develop such a model, and that is in serious doubt, it would be orders of magnitude beyond the scope of NSEMA's time and budget. The adopted model was intended to show trends and make comparisons between different courses of action. NSEMA's assembled experts agreed it could faithfully provide that function.

Back to the politically motivated position of the Lee BOCC, and a little history. Before Lee BOCC voted (June 15, 2010) to decide their vote as a NSEMA stakeholder, John Iglehart (Director of South District Office, FDEP), Oliver Clarke (City Engineer), and I visited the Lee Commissioners individually. Our goal was to convince them accepting proposed NEB projects, rather than replacing the barrier, was the right decision. Tammy Hall said she'd follow staff recommendations. (County staff believed adopting the NEB's was the right way to go.) Frank Mann said he was with us and supported the Cape/FDEP position. We were certain Ray Judah couldn't be swayed from his hard line desire to replace the barrier but we visited him anyway, to no avail. Brian Bigelow acted as if he knew little about it; indicated he'd have to study-up on it before vote. We thought he'd likely vote with Judah since we'd heard reports he was tight with the Pine Island eco-freaks. John Manning, newly appointed, seemed considerably knowledgeable on the issue, including much history. We left believing he agreed that the Cape/FDEP position was the right course of action. Thus we thought we had three votes for the NEB's, Hall, Mann, and Manning; one for replacing the barrier, Judah, and one uncertain, Bigelow, but probably going with replacement.

To our great surprise the vote was unanimous to REPLACE the barrier! What happened?

If Lee BOCC read and understood NSEMA analyses and data, they would never take this action.

To compound the already bad situation, Lee BOCC has just unanimously allocated $500,000 to facilitate their suit against us, using some of our taxes to sue us!

Could it be emotional eco-freaks who insist the barrier be replaced, have BOCC's ear? Could it be County's repeated inability to provide hard data supporting their position is because there are none, and any "basis" they have relies on anecdotal information and/or mistaken "conventional wisdom?" Or could it be political motivation, i.e. the votes of these eco-freaks? Certainly, approximately 90,000 Cape Coral voters far outweigh the environmental wackos on Pine Island. BUT, as undoubtedly noted by those across the bridge, the Cape has a history of voter apathy. Even a Presidential election has difficulty turning out more than 20 percent of our voters. You can bet 100 percent of the Pine Island eco-freaks will vote.

So what's our course of action? Simple - Cape Coral voters get off your duffs and vote in the upcoming Primary election on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Your city needs your support.

Former Cape Coral Councilmember Pete Brandt served as council's representative on the North Spreader Ecological Management Agreement stakeholder's committee.



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