provided by Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation
At SCCF’s Candidate Forum on the Environment on Feb. 10, all six candidates running for Sanibel City Council said they believe human-driven climate change is happening.
The following question was the only rapid-response query posed during the 90-minute forum by SCCF CEO Ryan Orgera, who moderated the discussion.
“There is no meaningful scientific debate about whether or not climate change is occurring, nor does such a debate exist around whether or not humans are exacerbating it. It is accepted by the scientific community,” said Orgera. “Do you quite simply acknowledge that human driven climate change is happening?”
In a roll call format, all candidates answered, “Yes.”
Produced live at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, the forum featured Mary Bondurant, Scott Crater, Tim Drobnyk, John Henshaw, Jason Maughan, and Mike Miller all seated at a safe, social distance.
By asking candidates a series of questions that were specific to comments that they have made previously about environmental issues, the format was engaging and dynamic. Asked how he would pursue his commitment to coastal resilience despite climate change denial among some residents, Tim Drobnyk emphasized education.
“We need to have a more concerted effort in terms of educating those that aren’t here full time, those that come down here to visit. It has to be a marketing campaign to realize that we are being affected by it,” said Drobnyk. “We’re a barrier island on the coast. So. It’s there, it’s not changing, and it’s just a matter of informing everybody.”
It was the first time SCCF has hosted a forum.
“This March 2, Sanibel voters will select three city council members, making this the most significant election for our island in recent memory. Sanibel is singular in the state of Florida, not just because our wonderful neighbors and friends, but because we have chosen balance over unfettered development,” said Orgera. “At SCCF, we believe it’s important that you understand your candidate’s nature ethic so that you can make an informed decision at the ballot or mailbox.”
The production was directed by former CBS News producer Arlene Dillon, who is a long-time Sanibel resident. Dillon’s 25 years of experience in network television news included 12 years covering the White House and producing live special events.
When internet issues interrupted a livestream broadcast of the forum, Dillon stayed cool under pressure and made sure a clean recording was obtained for viewing after the event.
“We hope the end result will help citizens of Sanibel make more informed decisions. By watching, you will learn a great deal about critical issues facing our Sanctuary Island,” said Dillon, who donated her time and talent.
The opening question Orgera posed to candidates got right to the heart of the matter.
“The Sanibel Vision Statement, which hangs in the Council Chamber, says, ‘Sanibel is and shall remain a barrier island sanctuary, one in which a diverse population lives in harmony with the island’s wildlife and natural habitats.’ How will you specifically work to uphold that statement?’ he asked.
In responding, candidates brought up water quality, stewardship, dealing with pressure to change land use rules from developers, the need for the city to model eco-living, and following the Sanibel Plan.
“We have to protect the sanctuary and develop as a community only if, in fact, we can conserve the values of sanctuary, which include diversity and living in harmony with wildlife and nature,” said Mike Miller. “I think key to that today is dealing with the water quality issue. We have a problem with too many discharges from Lake Okeechobee and even apart from Lake Okeechobee, we have a problem with nutrient pollution in our waterways. We have to deal with that.”
In the series of targeted questions, Orgera asked Jason Maughan whether his support of modifying some development restrictions on residential property to allow for amenities such as swimming pools would apply to development in wetlands.
“The rights of way on Sanibel are platted out for four lanes, which will never be made. They can’t put in a small pool for the kids to play in because 20 percent, 25 percent of their land is to be tarmacked at some point in the future. I just don’t think that’s fair,” said Maughan. “I think the protections for wetlands are well-established, set backs are well-established, that comes into play. But we’ve got to get families out here and we’ve got to find new ways to do it.”
In one of her platform-specific questions, Mary Bondurant was asked to explain what she means when she talks about “responsible development.”
“I think that when we look at how we’re developing things, it’s very important to stick with our city plan and with our rules and regulations,” she said. “And we want to keep our island as unique as it is and is the way it is for the future generations to come.”
Orgera asked Dr. Scott Crater how he would combat Florida agriculture and sugar interests in Tallahassee without monetary resources readily available.
“I think the Southwest Florida Coastal Resiliency Compact is one way to address that void because it’s bringing together all the cities and towns and counties in southwest Florida who have a common interest in preserving the environment, and also preserving our water resources and particularly preserving the coast for resiliency against storms,” said Crater.
Orgera asked John Henshaw whether he would support incentives to promote innovative stormwater infrastructure so that Sanibel could lead by example when it comes to water quality.
“I’d be in favor of doing whatever it takes to force Sanibel to use the best available technology, best practices around mitigating discharges, reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that we’re discharging not only in our waste treatment facilities, but also in our runoffs, stormwater runoff,” said Henshaw. “All avenues ought to be explored to how do we incentivize organizations, private institutions and businesses to use the best practices possible in respect to mitigating outfall or mitigating discharges.”
In closing, Orgera reminded everyone to mail their ballots by Feb. 20 or to drop them off by 6:59 p.m. March 2.
“I want to thank our candidates for an engaging forum, but also for their willingness to serve our community. City council members are unpaid, dedicated public servants, and we’re indeed lucky to have such an impressive slate of candidates,” he said. “And, we’re proud to be part of our city’s public discourse on the environment.”
Watch the full forum online here.
SCCF’s mission is to protect and care for Southwest Florida’s coastal ecosystems. Learn more at sccf.org.