Captiva Community Panel Discusses Hurricane Preparedness

By Santiva Chronicle Reporter Reese Holiday/Photo by Santiva Chronicle Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen

With the Florida peninsula jetting out into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, the state is susceptible to powerful tropical storms and hurricanes that form in these bodies of water.

But while the entirety of Florida, and other coastline states, can experience the damage these storms cause, Captiva Fire Chief Jeff Pawul said it is barrier islands like Captiva that often get hit first and with the most force, which is why it is so important to be prepared and cautious.

“Head the warnings,” Pawul said. “When they’re asking for mandatory evacuations of Captiva and Sanibel, please do so. We are a barrier island, aka a speed bump for hurricanes.”

Hurricane season typically doesn’t occur until the months of June through November when the ocean’s water is warmer, feeding the cyclones and making them stronger.

However, Pawul still discussed hurricane preparedness during a Captiva Community Panel meeting on Tuesday, specifically noting some problems that occurred during the aftermath of category five hurricane Irma in 2017.

One of these problems was that many citizens who evacuated the island returned to their homes and businesses after Irma had passed before the fire department could give the OK to do so.

Pawul said this slowed down the department’s duties after the storm and proved dangerous for those citizens returning as many roads were still uncleared and properties were unchecked.

Joining Pawul in this discussion was Mike Sawicki, a Lee County Sherriff’s Office Lt., who said the jobs of the sheriff’s office and fire department after a storm consist of search and rescue, road clearing, as well as checking homes and businesses for any damage and potential danger.

Sawicki said if citizens return too early, more officers would have to focus on maintaining the security of the island rather than helping with the effects of the storm.

In terms of those who never leave the island and ignore evacuation orders, Sawicki said those people put themselves at risk and add no extra security to their property by residing inside of it.

Another problem that occurred after Irma was the influx of calls from citizens to the Captiva Fire Department asking for information about the potential damage to their homes and businesses.

Pawul said this overwhelmed the department’s phones which is why other avenues for getting information out are being explored. He said some potential solutions include creating a website, Facebook page, or taking in emails, but he also stressed the importance of getting information to the right people considering some properties could be damaged and exposed.

However, Pawul also said most of the information that people seek directly after a storm are things that the fire department or sheriff’s office cannot provide, which is why a more efficient manner of post-storm information distribution is needed.

“Typically, the information that people are looking for are the creature comfort type things,” Pawul said. “When’s my power coming back on, when’s my water coming back on, stuff like that. Just know, we don’t work for any of these utility companies either, so while we’re trying to do search and rescue, road clearing and all that directly after, we don’t know these any more than you do.”

But while the problems of safety and information that occurred after Irma could happen with any storm, Sawicki said the level of preparedness before a hurricane, and caution after it, depends on the severity and situation, things that can differ with every rainfall.

“Each one of these events is different and it’s unique,” Sawicki said. “The scope and scale of the damage, the size of the storm, how wide spread the damage is across the rest of the county or the state, that’s going to affect how resources are allocated and kind of what the shape of our response is going to look like.”

Along with being introduced to a hurricane preparedness presentation, the CCP was also introduced to Jennifer Lusk, the Sanibel School’s new assistant principal, who wanted to let the panel know about changes happening within the school, as well as establish a relationship with the CCP so that the community can know which ways it can assist the islands’ education.

While this school year is Lusk’s first at the Sanibel School, she said she has spent the last 16 years working in the Lee County School District with her last job being at Lehigh Elementary School as an assistant principle.

This year, however, schools around the county have experienced ever-changing health and safety protocols due the global health pandemic. These protocols are no different at the Sanibel School, but Lusk commended the teachers and students for their ability to continue to learn amongst restrictions, whether they are doing so in person or virtually.

With this, Lusk said a new curriculum will be introduced next year to kindergarten, first and second grade students that addresses the pacing of how standards are taught in subjects like English, language arts and mathematics.

She said third, fourth and fifth grade students, as well as those in middle school, will stay with the same curriculum for now, but will change over to new standards one year at a time.

But regardless of the type of curriculum, Lusk said students at the Sanibel school learn in many ways inside the classroom and out so that they can develop the skill of thinking outside of the box.

“Our students out here, they really are just rock stars,” Lusk said. “They really need to consistently be pushed, and we don’t want them to get bored. We want to make sure that we’re enriching them and giving them all we have.”

Other CCP Meeting Items:

  • Captiva Erosion Prevention District
    • Selected Great Lakes Dredge and Dock as its construction partner for its Captiva Island Beach Nourishment Project
    • The mobilization of sand and equipment will start in late July. Actual placement of the sand will be mid to late August. Project will conclude in October
    • Total cost of the project is about $15.6 million, which is less than the last nourishment project. $6 million in funding will come from the state while county funding is still being negotiated
  • Committee Appointment
    • The Captiva Island Property Owners Association Board’s Rene Miville has his term ending this year. The CPA is the sponsor and primary fund-raising engine for the CCP. They will need to appoint a panel member to replace Miville
    • The Captiva Civic Association’s Jay Brown has his term ending this year. The CCA’s mission is the preservation of the quality of life, ambiance, and environmental integrity of this unique barrier island community. Brown is willing to be reappointed again if the CCA chooses to do so
    • Mike Mullins’ panel term ends this year. CCP needs to appoint a new panel member by the end of this year. Panel member Toni Lapi is in charge of the committee to nominate a new panel member, looking at 3 or 4 appointees. CCP and community input will be taken on the appointees
  • Sea Level Rise Committee
    • Moving forward with a grant that will have a tidal gage installed on Captiva in order to predict potential flooding on the island three days in advance. Gage is solar powered and wireless
    • Looking to install it on the dock at Sunset Captiva due to less traffic
    • Will cost the CCP $500. Some citizens said they would make donations to the panel for this. Gage actually costs more than $500, but the grant will pay for some of it. The $500 expense will cover five years
  • Wastewater Committee
    • CCP met with engineering consultant Kimley-Horn to discuss an approved, $100,000 county funded engineering study examining Captiva moving to a central sewer system
    • Late June, Kimley-Horn will have an evaluation on the alternative methods to provide central sewer collection system for Captiva
    • July, Kimley-Horn will expect to complete a review of all of the package plants and what their requirements will be for the central sewer system
    • Late September, preliminary design draft of what the system will look like
    • Late November, Kimley-Horn will have a cost estimate for the system
    • Mid December, Panel will have the results of Kimley-Horn’s analysis of the various ways to allocate the cost of the systems amongst property owners.
    • Final report will come in January
  • Iguana MSTU
    • CCP had 403 out of the 574 needed to form the unit. Petitions were due to the county by the end of April. With that, the unit did not form
    • Can do nothing and see how bad the iguana population on the island gets. Can fund iguana extermination with donations and panel funds. Can also look at forming a smaller unit


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