Captiva Panel Eyes Funding for Numerous Projects

The Captiva Commumity Panel looked at various issues, from fertilizer use to rat poisons, and from electric-vs.-gas-powered leaf blowers and golf carts to dog feces removal, while debating proposed changes to the island’s code Tuesday (Feb. 12).

Since no Panel meeting would be complete without arguing over whether to hook into Sanibel’s central sewer systems, there also was plenty of debate surrounding that issue as well.

Many of the matters under discussion also raised questions about the Panel’s ability to pay for all of the projects being proposed or on the drawing board, including a $43,000 engineering design to widen the pedestrian and bike path along Captiva Drive from South Seas Island Resort to Andy Rosse Lane, $10,000 for retaining a Panel attorney and funding for a proposed $50,000 island septic system study.

Funding concerns were a major reason why the Panel took a preliminary look at creating a Municipal Services Taxing Benefits Unit that would enable it to raise a steady stream of funds from island property taxpayers instead of relying wholly on community fundraising or obtaining spot grants from county, state or federal officials.

Panel Administrator Ken Gooderham said creating such a taxing unit would require both county approval and the support of local property owners.

According to Gooderham, Captiva’s total property is valued at $1.4 billion for tax purposes and that a 1 mill assessment on island property would generate about $1.4 million.

“The downside,” he added, “would be that these are taxes you would be paying on top of the property taxes you pay now, and Captiva is already a donor to the county, paying more in taxes than it receives.”

Panel member Mike Mullins, arguing that getting community support for the creation of such a taxing unit would be “a tough sell,” urged a “concerted effort” to get a bigger share of what islanders already are paying in property taxes back from the county and work at getting its share of bed taxes.

Panel President David Mintz said the county has historically resisted efforts to fund the panel on an ongoing basis.

Another Panel member, Rene Miville, warned, “Creating a taxing unit could create more friction in the community, pitting one sector against the other.”

Mintz asked Gooderham to study the political and legal ramifications of funding Panel operations by creating an MSTBU, including how it might affect the makeup of the Panel and its Sunshine Law obligations. He also urged him to explore other avenues of funding, such as the bed tax.

“We want to institutionalize funding of the panel,” Mintz remarked, “and we want to know the best way to do it.”

The panel also postponed retaining Fort Myers attorney Ralf Brookes to regularly attend Panel meetings and advise it on legal issues.

Mintz said Brookes was highly qualified and his $10,000 retainer fee was reasonable, but agreed with other panel members that there was no point in bringing Brooks aboard until there was a specific legal issue facing the Panel for him to deal with.

Regulating septic systems, leaf blowers, golf carts, fertilizer use, rat poison, idling trucks and cleaning up dog feces were among the issues tackled in a Captiva code revision discussion about clean air and water protection. Much of the debate focused on how far Captivans are willing to go to become “an eco-friendly island.”

Noting there are no state or county regulations on most of the island’s 378 conventional septic systems and no permits on more than 70 of them, Mintz said the island will be looking at the proposed language of septic regulations under consideration in Tallahassee or approved in other communities throughout the state if Captiva decides to try self-regulation.

Such an effort, he said, would involve:
Identifying all septic systems on the island.
Identifying and inspecting all unpermitted septic systems and ensuring they are repaired or replaced if in failure.
Requiring all conventional septic systems be pumped out and inspected every 5 years.
Requiring that all such pump-outs be performed by certified contractors and documented.
Ensuring that owners receive notices of septic inspection deadlines.
Requiring sellers of property to provide septic systems inspection reports to prospective buyers.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here,” Mintz said. “I’m trying to pick up the language that the state has used and that will be approved by the county.”

Island resident Linda Laird said, “I can’t imagine the community not being 151 percent behind this.”

The Panel approved a motion to have consultants prepare a report and draft proposed language for the inspection process. But it deferred dealing with housing that is occupied by renters beyond the capacity of it septic system until it has an opportunity to see if its proposed inspection and regulation program solve the problem.

Panel members discussed various ways to reduce fertilizer use and runoff, agreeing that Captiva should adopt Sanibel’s more stringent standards on fertilizer application plus a provision existing in Martin County that prohibits the application of fertilizers during heavy rains.

Brown noted that Sanibel has been working on the fertilizer issue for a long time, and most Captiva landscapers also operate on Sanibel and are familiar with its rules.

Mullins added that although the fertilizer regulations might be difficult to enforce, he added, “A part of what we are trying to accomplish is education.”

The panel also discussed banning rat poison and restrictions on herbicide use because of their deadly effect on Osprey and other wildlife, but opted to defer a decision on any restrictions until it can hear from experts on the issue.

No action was taken on the matter of cleaning up after dogs on the island.

Although the issue was fairly high on a community survey, nobody at the meeting argued that they noticed it was a serious problem. Lee County Sheriff’s Lt. Mike Sawicki said in about 2,000 miles of beach patrol, “we did not see much,” adding that he didn’t see the need to make the existing rules on dog feces more restrictive than they are.

He also said he had not experienced much of a problem with trucks idling in the Andy Rosse Lane commercial district – another issue the Panel was looking at but took no action on.

Panel members overwhelmingly voiced approval for requiring the use of gas-, instead of electric-powered leaf blowers because of noise and air pollution concerns. They opted, however, to allow Sanibel, which is presently debating the issue, to take the lead on the matter.

“I think there is the general sense that if you can do something about this, we should,” Mintz concluded.

For the same reason – noise and air pollution – there also was sentiment expressed for requiring that golf carts driven on the island be electric powered instead of gas.

Jimi Batchelor, who operates the Sunny Island Adventure golf cart rental operation at the entrance of South Seas, said he initially had tried using electric carts but found that while they may work for local residents who can easily plug them in, they don’t work well in a tourist operation.

Noting that the popularity of golf carts is increasing among tourists, he said the main problem is that there aren’t enough charging stations on the island for tourists – especially at South Seas.

However, Elisa Riordan, president of the Bayside Condominium Association on South Seas, remarked, “No one has ever asked us if we could provide a charging station at Bayside. But, then the question would be, who pays for the electricity?”

Mintz urged talking to South Seas officials to see if they can provide charging stations on the resort, as well as looking at more eco-friendly and quieter gas-powered carts than the ones now in use.

“Whatever we decide to do,” remarked Mullins, “we need realistic time frames.”

The panel was not as receptive to expanding the island’s golf cart zone from the S-curve near the Green Flash restaurant to Tween Waters resort.

Tween Waters officials welcomed such an expansion, saying it would improve parking and attract more people to their facilities.

But concerns were voiced about mixing cars traveling over 30 mph with rental golf carts that have a maximum speed limit of about half of that on the two narrow blind curves along Captiva Drive in that stretch of roadway.

“I love the Crow’s Nest (restaurant at Tween Waters) on a personal level,” Batchelor said of expanding the golf cart zone, “but I have to say I am terribly against it.”

The panel left the golf cart zone intact.

Turning again to septics and sewers, Brown, who chairs the Panel’s wastewater committee, urged hiring Dr. David Tomasko of Environmental Science Associates, to do a detailed analysis of the long-term viability of the island’s septic systems. He said the study would create a cost-benefit analysis to help the community decide whether or not to hook up to Sanibel’s sewer system.

According to Brown, the three-month study would look at the functioning of 60 septic systems throughout the island, do borings to determine the level of the water table beneath another 30 Captiva septic systems, provide estimates of how sea-level rise might impact the depth of dry soil used by island septic systems to remove pollutants before their effluent is discharged into ground water, and analyze nutrients in stormwater runoff from the island into surrounding waters.

But some panel members balked at the nearly $50,000 cost for the study.

Panelist Tom Rathbone argued that the study isn’t necessary if a majority of islanders already support hooking up to Sanibel’s sewer plant and urged a straw poll on the issue.

Mintz countered, “I don’t think a straw poll will give us the answer we are looking for. It will simply show there are people who are viscerally for it (sewers) and people who are viscerally against it. We’re trying to give them the data to properly decide.”

But Panel member Mike Kelly urged that Captiva not wait too long to debate whether or not to hook up to Sanibel’s sewers.

“One of these days, Sanibel will find another use for its excess sewer plant capacity, and then we’re screwed.”

The panel voted 8-1 to approve the study, although Mintz said he would look at whether some parts of the study can be done cheaper and if any county funding for the study is available.

Mintz announced that the county had agreed to build and maintain the widening of the pedestrian and bike path along Captiva Drive from Southseas to Andy Rosse Lane, but wants Captiva to fund design and engineering for the project, an expense pegged at $43,000.

Although Panel members voiced approval for going forward with the expansion, Mintz said he would put a final vote on the matter on the agenda for the next Panel meeting, adding, “If I can get the money, I will find a way to get a vote before then.”

Besides looking at additional government funding sources, the panel also discussed soliciting contributions from local businesses, South Seas and the Rauschenberg Foundation, who might benefit from construction of the pathway along the island’s dangerous S-curve near the resort.

“I want to go forward with this,” said Panel member Mike Boris, addressing the crowd in a meeting room near the entrance of South Seas. “This can be the first demonstrable thing we’ve done – right outside this window.”

In other Panel business:

Mintz announced he was appointing a sea-level rise committee to look at the potential impact of rising sea levels on the island and its septic systems. He said 11 residents already have volunteered to serve on the committee and he is exploring four or five potential sources of funding for its operations.

Chris Harlow and Alfredo Fermin, whose AAA Wildlife Trapping & Removal Services firm is engaged in iguana removal on Sanibel, warned the panel that it is unlikely Captiva or Sanibel will ever totally get rid of the invasive species, but their populations can be controlled.

Harlow, noting that an estimated 20 female iguanas on Captiva each lay 60-80 eggs annually said that because of its dense vegetation, iguana control on Captiva might be more difficult than on Sanibel, where he captures 30 to 60 iguanas a day when he is out on the island.

Mintz urged drawing up a proposal for a $5,000 iguana removal trial that would last about two-and-a-half months.

Lt. Sawicki urged Captivans – especially those with houses close to the water and accessible by boat – to install or upgrade their security systems with newer, motion-detector –activated digital camera devices that can help them and police be aware of people who are trespassing on their property and film burglars in the act of break-ins.

Sawicki added that there are a very small number of people engaged in break-ins on Captiva, adding that if his deputies can catch just one in the act of a break-in, it stops a lot more burglaries down the road.

Noting that digital cameras activated by motion detectors have come way down in price, he said, “With a camera, we can catch people in the act of committing a crime. It’s pretty hard for somebody caught on camera lying on the floor in handcuffs to say to a judge, ‘Hey, that’s not me’.”

Captiva Fire Chief Jeff Pawul said the island’s firefighters will be doing their annual Boot Drive to raise funds for the Muscular Dystrophy Association on March 8-10. He also said the district is looking at hosting its firehouse open house at the end of March or first week of April.

Captiva Erosion Prevention District Administrator Carolyn Weaver reported that the CEPD has obtained funding for a trailer containing unisex restrooms to replace old portable facilities at the Alison Hagerup Beach parking lot. She said the upgraded bathroom facilities will be air-conditioned, contain changing tables for infants and be ADA compliant.

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