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What to watch in 2019
January 9, 2019

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It's a new year, and if the Town of Fort Myers Beach had resolutions, they would probably have something to do with construction and clean water.

The algae that plagued the town last summer is a distant memory now as tourists pack the sand again, but water quality is still in the back of everyone's mind, and construction crews are increasingly on everyone's doorstep.

So let's take a look at the stories to watch as we head into another year on Fort Myers Beach.

Construction and Development

Improvements to the island's water system continue down the Estero Boulevard, with Lee County replacing the center lane storm drain system between Lovers Lane and Strandview Avenue into 2019.

They will also be regrading and rebuilding the southbound lane, bicycle lanes, and sidewalk.

They expect commission approval on the south segments between Strandview Avenue and Albatross Street sometime in late January, according to spokesperson Kaye Molnar.

Simultaneously, the Town is doing their own improvements on water mains and outfalls down various side streets.

Currently they are installing water mains between Madera Road and Sterling Avenue, and expect to begin their next phase before the end of the year, from Aberdeen Avenue to Flamingo Street.

With increased development comes bigger infrastructure, and Lee County commissioners voted in December to move forward with the construction of a 60-foot skybridge across Big Carlos Pass.

Many residents in both Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs are not happy about this decision, claiming it will negatively affect their quality of life, but commissioners see it as the most economic option for the county in the long-run.

County Manager Roger Desjairlas stated that public meetings about the bridge project will be held toward the end of this year as part of the process.

Construction of TPI's Margaritaville Resort is currently stalled due to a lawsuit from resident Chris Patton, who filed a suit against the Town last August for voting to allow the resort to be built on the island, on the grounds that their decision goes against the Town's comprehensive plan for land use.

According to court documents on file, the lawsuit is currently in the discovery phase.

No hearings have been set yet, so there's no telling when the suit could be resolved, but once it is, TPI plans to move forward with demolition of the existing structures, according to spokesperson John Gucciardo.

In the meantime, TPI will be working on permitting their off-island housing project Beaches Gateway Village, going through the formal approval process with the county toward the middle of the year.

Times Square will continue to see improvements in 2019.

A bid process in search of contractors to handle the business district's renovations will close this month and a public meeting will be held to discuss the bids on Jan. 11.

According to Contracts Manager Amy Baker, there are no specific projects planned for the square yet, but the selected contractor will handle things like aesthetic design, architecture, lighting, and resurfacing, according to the contract's scope of work.

A strategic planning session is being held this month to gather ideas for Newton Beach Park.

Those ideas will be presented at a public meeting on Feb. 2 at 9 a.m., where residents will have the chance to give their input.

A similar process is underway regarding the entrance to Bay Oaks Recreational Center, where a lot on Estero Boulevard was recently acquired by the town in a land swap deal.

Ideas such as building a community center for seniors and renovating the parking lot to create an official tram stop have been discussed in public meetings.

The Community Resource Advisory Board, Bay Oaks Recreational Center Advisory Board, and Town staff are working together to select a contractor and bring a plan to Council in the coming months.

Water Quality and

the Environment

We ended a year fraught with environmental disaster with a bit of hope for a fight back.

Calusa Waterkeeper, along with two other conservation groups, announced in December an intent to sue the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the National Marine Fisheries Services over Lake Okeechobee discharges.

The groups are fed up with the Corps' management of Lake O and their extension of the current plan through 2025.

The agencies have yet to respond to the suit.

The mayors of Sanibel, Cape Coral, and Fort Myers Beach joined forces last September to take the South Florida Water Management District to administrative court over the discharge plan as well.

All final documents were submitted in early December, and that suit should see a judgement soon.

The Marine Resources Task Force will be busy this year.

Their reusable bag program is in its final stages, and the bags should be distributed as soon as a final purchase order has been made, according to Rae Burns, the Town's environmental technician.

They've also been working on a set of ordinances that would ban fertilizer and glyphosate use on the island year-round.

MRTF plans to present the fertilizer ban and glyphosate ban to council at the same time, and hope to get it on an agenda soon.

Another potential ban has smokers on the island upset.

On Jan 2, Senator Joe Gruters filed a bill that would ban smoking on all of Florida's public beaches.

Smoking on the sand could become a civil infraction, resulting in a $25 fine or 10 hours of ordered community service.

If passed, the bill would go into effect on July 1.

Town Council Elections

In March, the residents of Fort Myers Beach will have the chance to vote new candidates onto Town Council to deal with all these upcoming issues.

Seats 1 and 2, currently held by Dennis Boback and Mayor Tracey Gore, are up for grabs.

So far, there are three candidates who have publicly announced an intent to run: Ray Murphy, who formerly served as mayor during his two terms on the Town's first council, Rexann Hosafros, who formerly served as vice mayor during one term, and Dan Allers, who currently serves on the Bay Oaks Recreational Advisory Committee.

Incumbents Tracey Gore and Dennis Boback have not yet stated whether they will run to keep their seats in March.

The qualifying period will begin at noon on Jan. 14, and candidates will have until Jan. 18 to submit all required documents.

Voters can register up until Feb. 4, and the last day to request a vote-by-mail ballot will be Feb. 27.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 5.

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