by SC Reporter Reese Holiday
After meeting with the Captiva Community Panel last month, Verizon sent four representatives to the island to see Captiva’s cell coverage problem for itself.
CCP President Jay Brown said he showed the representatives around the island where the signal measured was consistently bad, putting the problem in the hands of Verizon.
“I think they see first-hand that we do have a significant signal quality issue for our cell service on Captiva,” Brown said.
Verizon first met with the CCP during its July meeting where panel members explained that the cell coverage issue on Captiva is urgent. They said dropped calls, or failing to connect on calls at all, occurs often for not only residents, but emergency services too.
“We have residents who live in The Village, the most populated area of Captiva, who cannot use 911 because Verizon’s service does not work,” panel member David Mintz said during July’s meeting. “We’re dealing not just with service that is sporadic or hard to hear, etcetera. We have an emergency situation where people, including the sheriff’s department, are being forced to look for other carriers.”
Once hearing the situation, Verizon then sent their representatives to the island to see the problem for themselves. After touring the island with Brown, Verizon determined the causes of poor service were the dense vegetation around Captiva and the metal roofs that are popular in many neighborhoods.
Brown updated the panel about this visit during a CCP meeting on Tuesday where he explained that one of Verizon’s solutions for Captiva’s problem is to place around three small cell towers spread across the island.
These small cells are smaller than the two macrocells, or large cell towers, that provide cell coverage for the island and are located at the North and South ends of Captiva.
Because of their size, macrocells provide coverage to a larger area than the small cells. Once installed, however, small cells can provide a more focused area of coverage, potentially relieving the issue.
The CCP was open to the idea of adding these small cells and wanted to help Verizon determine the best places to put them.
However, Brown said Verizon wasn’t interested in this sort of community input with the cell company explaining that it is there problem to solve and there’s alone.
“What they basically told me is they don’t want community input,” Brown said. “They recognize they have a problem a here, and it’s up to them to solve the problem as best they can.”
After discussing the cell coverage issue on the island during its Tuesday meeting, the CCP then moved on to discussions about the new Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual, or LOSOM.
Mintz explained that the LOSOM is updated every 10 years and determines where water from Lake Okeechobee is sent in the state, when it is sent, and how much of it is sent.
He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who determine the lake’s operations, have picked model CC as their preferred model out of five.
Mintz added that this plan fundamentally protects the Saint Lucie River on the East Coast of the state from harmful lake releases at the expense of the Caloosahatchee River in the West Coast.
“What we’ve assessed and what we’ve learned is that the political leaders and the environmental groups on the East Coast, have convinced the [USACE] that there should be absolutely no releases from the lake going East,” Mintz said. “To put it bluntly, the East Coast did a good job for themselves in this process.”
According to a letter to the USACE from Kevin Ruane, the chairman of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, releases from the lake to the Caloosahatchee River in 2018 caused harmful algae blooms that seeped into the waterways of Sanibel and Captiva, causing lasting environmental problems.
But plan CC is just the preferred plan as discussions about the future of the LOSOM are still occurring. With that, Mintz said groups in the West, like the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation, have expressed to the Army Corps of Engineers that they believe plan CC isn’t fair to all regions in the state.
Mintz explained that because of this backlash, the corps has agreed to compromise on certain parameters.
“The Army Corps has agreed to optimize the protection of the Caloosahatchee to the extent possible in normal periods by keeping more water in the lake, and possibly by moving more water South before they release harmful flows West,” Mintz said. “They said that releasing water East would be the last resort.”
Mintz emphasized to the panel that the situation is complicated, and more discussion needs to occur before the LOSOM is set in stone during November of 2022.
When asked by panel members if there is anything they can do, he said to keep trusting in the SCCF and local leadership, and to keep the conversation about this crucial issue going.
“It’s complicated because it’s not only scientific issues,” Mintz said. “It’s political issues, lobbying issues, it’s who has the ear of who. So, it gets very complicated, and if we litigate it, it opens the door for people who have even their own interests, which are different then West Coast interests to seek to make other changes. All we can do at this point is rely on the leadership of SCCF.”
Other CCP Items:
New Panel Member Introduced
• Bruce McDonald is the CCP’s newest member, replacing previous member Antje Baumgarten who has moved off of Captiva
• McDonald, who was born in Canada, has lived in the US for 30 years and has had a home on the Tween Water stretch since 2010. He said he spends seven to eight months a year on the island
Sheriff’s Office Update
• A series of boat burglaries have been solved after the Lee County Sheriff’s Department found several stolen items, like fishing equipment, on Facebook Market Place
• Most of the recovered property has been returned, but Lt. Mike Sawicki reminded panel members to permanently mark all items of importance so that if they are stolen, they can be returned
• Mobilization of equipment for the beach nourishment project has begun
• The construction and placement of sand will start at the South end of the island and work its way up to the North. Turner Beach is the first location where the parking lot has been closed