by SC Reporter Reese Holiday
As the former mayor of Sanibel, Kevin Ruane is familiar with the islands and knows how to deal with the problems that surround them.
Now, Ruane has an elevated role away from the islands in the center of downtown Fort Myers. During this past election, Lee County voted in Ruane as a county commissioner then elected chairman of the Board of County Commissioners.
With this new position, the Captiva Community Panel invited Ruane to its Tuesday meeting to hash out and find solutions to Captiva’s most pressing issues. During the meeting, the panel’s President Jay Brown thanked Ruane for joining them and praised the chairman for all of the attention he has given Captiva so far.
“I think it’s terrific that you’re joining us today,” Brown said. “We’re a relatively small part of your constituency, and the fact that you would give us the level of attention that you have been giving us, we are very grateful.”
Ruane only stayed for a chunk of the meeting, but they used his time wisely to discuss the island’s plan for a central sewer system. Brown said the majority of Captiva property owners want a central sewer alternative to septic tanks, something the island has been working on for several years now. However, before any shovel breaks ground, Brown said there needs to be a more detailed plan, so citizens know what is going on.
“Before we can go back to the property owners, we have to have a lot more of a detailed plan,” Brown said. “Much better confirmation of what the cost of the projects are going to be, allow property owners to see where all the elements of the central sewer program are going to be, how their individual properties are going to be effected and so forth.”
Even with it still in the works, Ruane said having a central sewer system for Captiva, as opposed to septic tanks, would benefit both Sanibel and Captiva, especially when it comes to water quality.
According to the Long Island Sound Study in New York, improper use of septic tanks can result in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus to contaminate groundwater, which can eventually affect surface water. With this, Ruane said that the creation of a central sewer alternative is a top priority for him and Captiva.
“To me, the most important project I worked on, or the one that certainly has a lot of my handprints on, is the sewer project,” Ruane said. “I want to see that get through. We’re going to really try to make sure we address all your issues, but that one I’d like to see put to bed pretty quickly.”
Outside of central sewer, Ruane and the panel also discussed the issues surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine. Ruane first addressed the problems with making registrations to get a vaccination. He said the county has had to change how they take registrations a few times to keep everything running smoothly.
“We quickly went from a first come, first serve basis, which became really barbaric, and quickly switched to a call-in center,” Ruane said. “It was also determined that we would have a dial-in as opposed to an online system because our community is a little older. Many people indicated that they didn’t have computers, or they weren’t comfortable doing things on the computer.”
But with the problems that the county has faced with taking thousands of calls per day, they now have both call-in registrations and online registrations. However, Ruane said that even with these struggles, Lee County has remained close to the top in terms of rolling out the vaccine compared to other counties in Florida.
“We have really done a great job when you compare us to the 67 counties,” Ruane said. “We are in third place following Orange and Hillsborough. We’re in first place in administration, and administration is given the number of vaccines you have, how many shots you have gotten in arms.”
One of the last items discussed between the panel and Ruane was the pedestrian and fisherman issue on Blind Pass bridge. In previous meetings, the panel discussed the problem with fisherman leaving trash on the bridge and blocking the sidewalk for pedestrians and bikers to get through.
In this meeting, panel member David Mintz said the issue on the bridge was ignored by the county until Ruane took office. Mintz added that the problem has already been brought to the attention of the new chairman, but a solution is still in the works.
“We’ve made a recommendation to the county that one side of the blind pass bridge, the bay side, would be closed to fisherman, the coast side would continue to be open,” Mintz said. “Therefore, by closing the bay side, we would have safety of pedestrian access, which is something that we as a community believe we desperately need.”
Knowing this problem has been prevalent on Captiva for a long time, Ruane agreed with Mintz and said the county wasn’t previously engaged with Captiva as much as they should have been. Adding to this, Ruane said government moves slow and he will do his job to the best of his ability to get the problem solved.
“It’s not a matter of it not being important, it’s trying to direct staff,” Ruane said. “Government doesn’t move as quickly as I’d like to. My job is to try to put as much pressure as possible to make a move as quickly as possible.”
With all of these problems discussed, the panel said they were grateful for Ruane addressing Captiva and its issues. In response, Ruane said he was grateful to Captiva for the support they have given him and that he’s ready to get to work.
“I asked for the job, and I appreciate all the support I got from Captiva,” Ruane said. “Obviously, it’s groups like you that were so helpful in me getting my message out and winning. Now it’s time to get to work.”
Other issues discussed in the Feb. 9 CCP meeting:
• Only have 212 petitions to form MSTU. Need 575 to the county by April, 1
• Unit will not form if petition number isn’t reached. This means iguana control will have to come out of pocket for citizens
• Not all Captiva property owners are on the island year-round, making it difficult to get petitions in
RSC-2 zone Issues
• Property owners are renting out to large numbers of people in a family residential zone
• Talked to the county about “nipping this in the bud,” Mintz said
Captiva Sidewalk Construction
• Panel has to have right of way easements from six property owners. Mintz has contacted all of them and expects only minor problems, if any
• Once those are turned in to the county, project is shovel ready and just needs funding
Sea Level Rise
• Causing flooding on bay side of island which affects property integrity and septic systems
• Panel in support of purchasing sea level sensors to predict flooding and prevent damage