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04/17/2014 at 3:12pm

Film Fest 20148th Annual Fort Myers Beach Film Festival Opens

One of the island's most exciting events takes place this week: Estero Boulevard will be lined with stars for six days beginning on Tuesday, April 22 as the 8th Annual Fort Myers Beach Film Festival comes to town. The hard-working organizers and volunteers responsible for this wonderful event that gets bigger every year have scheduled all kinds of fun things. From Opening Ceremonies on Wednesday to the Awards Ceremony on Sunday, with two workshops, a free beach film and over 25 original and independent film showings in between, there will truly be something for everyone.

The Film Festival’s Opening Ceremonies will be held at Beach Theater on Wednesday, April 23rd at 2:00 pm. Stop by and enjoy a champagne toast to kick off this unique Island event! Film screenings will be offered each day Wednesday – Sunday. You’ll find a full schedule listed on the next page. Tickets are $6, but the Friday evening Outdoor Film on the Beach is FREE! Bring your chairs or blankets and get set to watch Disney’s "Teen Beach Movie” at the Outrigger Resort, 6200 Estero Blvd.

Two informative and entertaining workshops are planned for those wanting a closer look at the filmmaking business. The first workshop - Self Propelled Filmmaking - is scheduled for Friday, April 25, at 11:00 am at the Beach Theater.

"This workshop will be an informative yet lighthearted experience that will inspire your inner most creative side and show you the affordable tools and resources used by festival award winning filmmakers, Kyle B. Thompson, Chad Gurgiel and National Geographic photographer, Joshua Howard,” Artistic Director Elizabeth D'Onofrio Halladay told us.

The second workshop, Fort Myers Beach Talk Fest, is scheduled the following day, Saturday at 11:00 am and allows participants to have conversations with film professionals. This informative workshop is open to new filmmakers and/or anyone interested in the process of filmmaking and offers a rare opportunity to learn the business from those who know it best. Tickets for both workshops are available on the festival’s website:

Film Festival Awards and Closing Ceremonies will be held at the Beach Theater on Sunday from 4-6pm, followed at 6:30pm with encore showings of the Festival’s "Best Feature” and "People’s Choice” Award winners.

Staff Report

More Delays For

Big Carlos Pass Dredging

After two years at a standstill, Fort Myers Beach residents may be wondering why there has been little movement on the Big Carlos Pass dredging project. Though the Board of County Commissioners approved the dredging in February, the group has developed a plan for the project that will cause significant delays – and not everyone is happy about it.

Al Durrett is one of those people. Owner of Fish-Tale Marina on Fort Myers Beach, Durrett is outspoken about his frustration with the project’s progress.

"I just want to scream at the county government,” he said.

Durrett, who has spearheaded the Big Carlos project and been a voice for the issue, said his dissatisfaction lies in the fact that the county has decided to develop a brand new permit for the dredging, instead of just adding it to an existing permit – a permit that will soon allow dredging just a few yards away from Big Carlos.

"They are trying to get started but what they’re doing is making us redo the whole permit process, when they already have a permit issued that we could just change,” he said.

To quickly summarize the project for those who are unfamiliar with it: the desire to dredge Big Carlos Pass is one that has been vocalized repeatedly over the last couple of years by residents and business owners. Currently, the depth of the pass is extremely limiting to boats that draw more than four feet of water. Very few vessels can traverse the waterway safely (especially at low tide), and thus businesses like marinas, hotels and restaurants are avoided. The lack of a safe passageway for large boats through Big Carlos Pass causes economic harm to businesses on the south end of the island. The project would dig out sand from the pass and increase depth, allowing boats of varying sizes to utilize the waterway and visit parts of the island they were unable to before.

Two years ago, Durrett began to work on the Big Carlos Pass project, urging beach residents and business owners to get involved. He called a stakeholders meeting, and follow-up meetings, at times drawing more than 100 people. His intention was to have this issue brought to the forefront for the county.

But most of Lee County has ignored him, he said.

"For some reason, Steve Boutelle of Lee County has been against talking to anybody from our stakeholders meeting,” he said, adding that project manager Pam Keyes has been virtually unreachable and unhelpful.

Our attempts to contact the project manager directly for this article resulted only in a response from Lee County’s Communication Director Betsy Clayton.

"In mid- to late-March, County staff met with Chuck Listowski, West Coast Inland Navigation District Director, and began coordinating efforts to obtain a bath survey of Big Carlos Pass.” Clayton wrote in an email."This information will assist in scoping the project and is necessary for permit applications. Chuck has obtained the services of AIM Engineering and Survey. They should begin field work within the next two weeks and have results for our consideration within 4-5 weeks after they mobilize. This information will also assist Lee County defining the appropriate area for soil sampling and testing to determine the quality of dredge material and eventual deposit sites.”

Durrett has found support from District 3 Commissioner and Chair of the Board of County Commissioners Larry Kiker. "When Larry Kiker got to be in charge of this area for county commissioners,” Durrett explained, "he vowed to help us, and he has.”

Commissioner Kiker got involved with the project about three months ago. He said the project is an extensive one that requires much back-and-forth between the stakeholders, who must detail their needs, and the county, which has to approve the project’s cost, which is "in the millions.”

As for the permitting, Kiker said there is reasoning behind applying for a brand new one. The permit would last 15 years.

"We’re trying to set it up so that we can do maintenance, so that we don’t have to go through this whole process again,” he said. "That’s something that hasn’t been done before – where you do long-term permitting for beach projects.”

But Durrett favors amending the existing permit. This permit already allows for the transfer of sand from two designated areas right next to the pass to Lovers Key, to replenish that beach.

If the permit were amended to include Big Carlos, dredging in the pass could not only fix its depth issue, but also help complete the beach renourishment project of Lovers Key (should sand from the pass be tested and approved for the beach). And it would do this at a faster rate and cheaper price tag, he said.

"We could not understand as stakeholders why our government would want to go through the process of redoing a whole new permit – all the cost involved, the dollars, the time invested – when all they had to do was get a change on the permit that was issued and clear the pass out so that boating could be done here,” he said.

And the dredging would not go against what Mother Nature intended, Durrett said. Big Carlos was originally deep enough for large boats – which explains why there is a drawbridge at the pass. Over the years the sand shifted and created shoals in the waterway, rendering it useless to large boats and also hurting the quality of the water.

Kiker agreed that water quality was an issue.

"We’ve got to make sure we can get the water to flow properly in and out of there to filtrate the back bay,” he said.

Fort Myers Beach needs this dredging, Durrett said. The livelihood of the beach and its businesses depends on it.

"The economy at the south end of Fort Myers Beach is dedicated to boating,” he said, later adding, "What will happen, is if this pass is allowed to fill in, the value of real estate here on Fort Myers Beach, the south end of it, will go down the tubes. People that come down here to buy a house and have a boat behind their house – that’s the reason they move to Southwest Florida.”

But without any progress on the project, he said, those property values will most certainly decrease, and people will be turned off to the area.

"It’s a shame that the county is making the taxpayer pay a bigger bill for something that could be done now. The same sand can most likely be used on Lovers Key as the sand that’s a few yards away. So that’s our problem. And I’ve been a pain in the butt of Lee County for the past two years but I don’t care,” he said, later adding, "It’s two years of bullshit.”

Mallory Schindler