by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
photos, video by SC Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
Lee County is giving Sanibel Causeway Islands A & B an overdue makeover to make them more safe, more presentable and more structured. Director of Lee County Parks and Recreation Jesse Lavender presented the Sanibel City Council with conceptual designs at its Jan. 19 meeting.
“We want to garner your interest in this project as it’s your avenue to the island,” said Lavender. “We also want to make sure (the islands) are safe and enjoyable for everybody.”
The proposed design consists of a combined 286 structured parking spaces between the two islands plus a designated RV parking area on the larger Island A. There will be one-way entrances and exits on both sides of the islands to better control the flow of traffic.
Councilman Chauncey Goss said he has watched the popularity of the islands “blossom” over the past three decades, but hasn’t necessarily seen “an organizational shift.” He said parking has become “total chaos” and hopes the project will also prohibit people from crossing the road on foot.
Proposed plans also include paddlecraft loading and unloading areas on both islands, as well as draining, restrooms, pavilions, pathways, landscaping and signage. But a fishing pier is not part of this project, according to Lavender.
“There have been numerous mentions (of a fishing pier) since the new bridges were put into place,” said Lavender. “We would have to do a full structural analysis of those pilings (off the B span). It’s something we can look into in the future, but it’s not part of this project.”
Vice Mayor Holly Smith raised concerns over impacts by jet skis launched from the islands and creating issues for swimmers. Lavender said the project should alleviate those problems. “There shouldn’t be any way for anybody to launch a jet ski and it will be tougher to park trailers after this project is over with,” he said.
Lavender added that aside from this project he has been working the county’s Natural Resources Department on potential slow or swim zones on both islands, which would allow the sheriff’s department to further enforce the jet skis that “are zipping right around the children.”
The conceptual design also shows event space on Island A. And Lavender said it would be limited to the two existing events – the annual sunrise service held by the Sanibel Community Church on Easter and the Sanibel Sea School’s Octifest held in October.
The other half of the project is erosion control structures, such as T-groins, to avoid the annual renourishment projects. Mayor Mick Denhan said there has been some unintended consequences when a groin has been put in adjacent to the island.
“I think putting in a groin is not something that should be done lightly,” Denham said. “I would like to be assured you are really seeing what the impact of that groin can be, not just on the islands, but adjacent to the islands.”
Denham added he would have a memo drafted that would outline the concerns council discussed in the meeting. “We have captured some very important things here today and I would like to put that in writing, particularly the safety issues because they are important to us,” he said.
The $8.5 million project will be paid for through state funding and tourist development taxes. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer with an estimated completion date of June 2024. And given the timeline and pattern of work, traffic delays or use of the islands are not expected to be an issue.
Lavender said the county’s communication team will work with partner agencies throughout the project to keep residents and visitors up to date.