Council Hears Mixed Results on Water Quality; Whitman’s Custard Approval Provokes Complaints

by Jan Holly

Natural Resources Director James Evan’s water quality report to City Council, given at Council’s meeting Nov. 5 at City Hall, showed mixed results. Evans explained that Lake Okeechobee water elevations are “not too much different” from last year’s, and that lake inflows, at 353 cfs, and outflows, at 1358 cfs, are typical for this time of year. “In this dry season,” he said, “we have more demand than supply of water coming in. The majority of the outflow is going through Moore Haven Locke, with the remainder going south.”

The Caloosahatchee River’s weekly average flow, at 650 cfs and delivered in a pulse to the river, makes possible optimizing “the use of that volume of water to keep salinity down,” Evans said. He noted that salinity in the upper estuary is above the preferred range for tape grass. “We are still not meeting salinity targets,” he said. “The [South Florida Water Management] District will do a study to monitor salinity. We are looking forward to that as it rolls out.”

Evans reported that salinity in the lower estuary is in a good range for oysters and sea grasses. “Water clarity in San Carlos Bay and all Sanibel beaches is good right now,” he said.

The Islands experienced some heavy accumulations of algae over the weekend, which was “associated with the cold front that passed through,” Evans reported. “Today, the accumulations are lighter,” he said. “The algae moved out with the tide. Today, there is less red drift algae on the beaches, now that the cold front has passed.”

Evans showed current Sanibel and Captiva red tide concentrations to be “in the medium to high range.” He called this “an average red tide event, with relatively small numbers of dead fish washing up on the gulf beaches.”

Evans announced that the Lee County Health Department will soon deploy signage to advise visitors that they should take caution when red tide is present. The signage will also include a list of symptoms associated with red tide. A health alert sign will advise that red tide is present in the waters.

The Health Department will also deploy signage for blue-green algae in areas where beachgoers have full body contact with water—in the upper estuary and in fresh water areas of Lee County.

Evans recommended that City Council move forward in deploying this signage on Sanibel’s beaches. “We want people to know whether the water is safe to swim in,” he said.

Councilwoman Holly Smith called the signage initiative “a great next step. After last year, this is extremely important,” she added, “with so much misinformation coming out. It’s great information and an educational tool that we haven’t had before. It’s extremely important, especially for our own beaches.”

Objections to Whitman’s Custard Approval Voiced by Residents
During public comment, several residents expressed dismay at the Planning Commission’s recent decision to approve the Whitman’s Custard restaurant. First to speak, Islander Claudia Burns complained that the approval will “open the door for large chains of formula restaurants on Sanibel. This chain has more than 40 locations,” she said. “They have a tremendous financial advantage to outcompete a small locally owned business and to weather an economic downturn. Our formula restaurant ordinance was designed to protect small business on Sanibel. The ordinance was tested this summer. The ordinance failed,” Burns added.

Longtime resident Diane Irwin predicted that “you are starting a slide down a very slippery slope, by allowing this project. A chain store by any other name is still a chain store. I urge this Council to not let this be your legacy to the island,” she said.

Debi Almeida, co-owner of Joey’s Custard, echoed Irwin’s comments. “I implore you to reexamine the ordinance and definition of formula restaurant to stop any further developments like this. The Planning Commission has handed you and this Island a real life and safety issue, as there is not enough bike and car parking, and access in and out of this lot will be an ongoing safety concern.

“Yesterday our city celebrated its 45th birthday, Almeida added. “It was founded with foresight and courage. We need to protect and maintain our unique island. This is about integrity and safety.”

BIG ARTS Grand Reopening Parking Approved
BIG ARTS asked Council for permission to use offsite parking and a trolley for their facility’s grand reopening, noon to 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 25. BIG ARTS’s Executive Director Lee Ellen Harder explained that the Open House is a one-day event attracting much higher than normal attendance and making additional parking and trolley transportation from offsite parking lots a necessity. “We have gotten permission for offsite parking from several organizations, and we will use bike corrals, to encourage cycling to the event,” Harder said. A motion to approve the request was unanimously carried.

Minimum Age for Board Service
Councilwoman Holly Smith brought to Council a proposed ordinance that would establish a minimum age for persons to serve on City boards and committees. “Experience, maturity and special skills are required,” she said, adding, “The minimum age could be 18 or 21. I am comfortable with 18.”

Councilmen Richard Johnson and Mick Denham concurred. “Eighteen is appropriate. It’s the age of consent and the minimum age to serve our country,” Johnson said.

Councilman Jason Maughan spoke against new legislation for this problem.
“A young man applies for a board–and that is impressive that he is doing this. Why shouldn’t somebody should throw his hat in the ring? I don’t want to pass a law discouraging kids,” Maughan said. “We’re creating yet another law that says that, as a matter of law, you are not good enough.”

Mayor Kevin Ruane acknowledged that both points of view have merit, “but I, too, struggle with putting another piece of legislation on the books,” he said. “We can reopen and readvertise to get the skill sets that we want.”

Upon City Attorney John Agnew’s recommendation, Council tabled the question until the Dec. meeting. “I can have [a legal] answer to your questions at that time,” Agnew said.

Comments (5)

  1. We do not want any more chain stores On the island. Please resend your approval for the custard train store.

  2. Whitman’s Custard IS a chain … did they change the name so that we would not know and they would be allowed? Please do not allow ANOTHER custard/ice cream store on the Island… there are enough and they are absolutely fine. Having another suck store might make one of our present stores close.

  3. Ellen W. Svenson

    As a life long secondary school teacher and administrator, I can attest that 18 year olds are still not mature enough to hold public office. Brain studies show that the brain is not fully developed until age 25. Please keep the 21 rule in place. Ellen W. Svenson owner at 3215 W. Gulf Drive

  4. We do not need another Custard shop, much less a chain!
    Are you trying to put existing shops out of business?
    Has anyone listened to the residents?

  5. This is a chain. Explain how 40 stores don’t represent a chain? Too, how many custard places do we need. Who is the ‘Commission representing? Rescind the approval. NO CHAIN STORES.

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