Water Quality Concerns Led Open Commentary at Council Meeting

by SC Staff Writer Jan Holly

The water quality crisis remained uppermost on the minds of both Councilmembers and attendees at City Council’s meeting Jan. 15 at City Hall. Vice-Mayor Mick Denham was first to take note, during Council Comments, of newly elected Governor Ron DeSantis’s recent water quality proposals.

The governor’s announcements about water management in Southwest Florida is surprising,” Denham said. “He supports many of the issues that we are wrestling with. He called for the resignations of the entire South Florida Water Management District board.

[The board’s] intransigence has been a thorn in our side,” Denham added. “I am holding my breath a little, but I salute the governor for his comments, and I hope we can move forward in a different direction.”

In a lengthy—and passionate—discourse, Councilman Jason Maughan echoed Denham’s sentiments. “Our own state representatives opened the Everglades to fracking. This is insanity,” Maughan said. “I was not at all surprised when the governor asked for the resignations of [SFWMD] managers. I refused to go to their meetings, because they do absolutely nothing to assist. Real change comes from committing to basic ideals, win, lose or draw. We suffer the consequences at our own risk.

The legislature will not help us,” Maughan added. “We need someone to control the District and the Army Corps of Engineers. [Governor DeSantis] can encourage the Corps.”

Maughan was conciliatory about the Corps’ role in any water management errors. “I don’t blame [the Corps]. They do what they are told,” he said. “It is our responsibility to stop the madness, by putting in good people, who won’t be bought, who earned their positions, and not by cutting deals. If we don’t look after ourselves, no one will look after us.”

Councilwoman Holly Smith credited Council for its efforts over the long term to improve water quality. “Never let a good crisis go to waste, but this crisis was a long time coming,” she said. “I am extremely proud of our Council members. We have challenged the Water Management board for quite some time.

I thank the mayor and vice mayor for work that they have done over a decade,” she added. “It has resonated in the state of Florida. We are a rare jewel in the state. Other elected officials and national officials look to Sanibel for what we have done.”

Resident Peter Pappas cited the potential conflict between effective water quality measures and economic progress. “We can have economic growth and population growth, or we can have clean water, clean air, and a healthy and enjoyable environment—but we can’t have both,” Pappas said. “You can’t clean anything, if you continue to soil.”

Responding to Pappas’s position, Councilman Chauncey Goss expressed optimism about the future for water quality in Southwest Florida. “I spent time in Tallahassee listening to [Governor DeSantis’s] speech. It is mind boggling to me to see what he has done in the last week,” he said. Speaking directly to Pappas, Goss added, “Peter, I hope it is not the zero-sum game that you describe.”

Mayor Kevin Ruane elaborated further on Pappas’s thesis. “I am more optimistic than you are, Peter, because we have a governor who has political courage. The governor’s actions are bold and what we need. I hope the legislature approves and finds the money. That will be the challenge.”

Commentary on Other Issues of Island Concern

Island resident Dorothy Donaldson addressed Council on the problem of leaf blower noise pollution. “I live in a small community. Sunday is the only day that we don’t have noise from leaf blowers. It is impossible to rest and enjoy what we are all here for,” she said. “Restricting days has been only minimally successful. I ask that the planning commission research other communities and see if something can be done here.”

Resident Phyllis Gresham made a complaint about bicyclists riding at night without lights. “It is not always the case that, if bikers can see an oncoming car, the driver can see them. I have noticed this problem especially as we have more visitors,” she said.

Goss thanked Donaldson for her comments about leaf blower noise pollution. “I forgot about [the noise], even though I hear it every day. There are better technologies now,” he said. Goss also concurred with Gresham’s point about the necessity for cyclists riding after dark to use lights.

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