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Town Council

06/16/2014 at 5:47pm

Council Hears Summary of
2014 Legislative Session

At a workshop on Monday morning, the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach listened to an interesting summary on the state's 2014 Legislative Session from the Town's lobbyist in Tallahassee, Keith Arnold. They also held joint meetings with both the Audit Committee and the Bay Oaks Recreation Center Advisory Board (BORCAB).

"Overall, this was an uncontroversial year, with a relatively small amount of bills that were passed,” Arnold began. "Issues with local governments' autonomy surface every year, and it's our job to address these. Some of these have merit - those that involve the health and welfare of the citizens of Florida - but quite often the state goes beyond that."

On the environmental front, Keith reported that he doesn't think the issue of oil drilling near the coast is likely to come up again, but that 'fracking' is becoming a big controversy in the Capitol.

"There is a limited framework for regulating this, and the issue has become high profile locally - especially in Collier County, where a Texas company has received permits to drill near Golden Gate," he said. "Right now, the foothold of the industry is in Collier, and is something that will be dealt with legislatively in the future. Your Representative, Ray Rodrigues, has been trying to introduce bills that would require more disclosure on the chemicals used in the process.”

Vice-Mayor Dan Andre expressed concerns with this, saying it is his understanding that Rodrigues has been supporting fracking by allowing the identity of the chemicals used in the fracking mix to remain proprietary information (belonging to the company), and Arnold explained that new language in bills Rodrigues introduced this year - both of which died in committee - directly ask for disclosure.

"As far as water quality projects, the east coast fared a lot better than the west, thanks largely to Senator Negron and his being able to get the people on the east coast behind him,” he said. "There was $18 million funded through Senator Benacquisto for the C-43 Reservoir, but C-43 is going to cost between $500 and $700 million to build, so that makes it a long-term solution (15-20 years). There was a lot of attention given to Lake Okeechobee this year and to the Indian River Lagoon - over $200 million for Lake O cleanup issues - whereas a relatively small amount was spent on the Caloosahatchee River side. Out of that $200 million, Southwest Florida got about $25 million.”

Arnold urged Council to work with Lee County and other local mayors to create a regional response to water issues.

"I think that involves all of you, the commissioners and other mayors to identify other public works programs that would benefit the beach that are more financially attainable than C-43," he said. "It's often not easy to identify these smaller projects, but the work needs to be done as I believe the Legislature will continue to fund water projects next year. I think we should work on a process to begin cleaning up our own inflow - downriver from the lake from places like Fort Myers and Cape Coral," he said.

Keith then gave an update on a bill that will affect vacation rental ordinances statewide, saying it came after the Florida Keys' cities of Tavernier and Islamorada tried to limit short-term rentals to a minimum of six months.

"The net affect of this is that any local ordinance that you have on vacation rentals is okay so long as a time benchmark has not been set," he said, and Town Attorney Derek Rooney explained that anything associated with the use - parking, noise, et cetera - can be changed without the Town losing its current ordinance, which remains valid since it was in place before the Legislature's 2011 decision to prohibit municipalities from restricting the rentals.

Finally, Keith reported that the Legislature has determined that all Council members should take Ethics classes.

"Starting next year, you will be required to take four hours of ethics courses," he said. "And since it says, 'Municipal Officers', you (Town Manager Don Stilwell) might be required to take one too."

During a joint meeting with Betty Simpson and Tom Myers of the Bay Oaks Recreation Campus Advisory Board (BORCAB), Council received copies Bay Oaks' May/June newsletter and Chair Simpson told Council there are plans for new paint and a new welcome desk.

"We also have a gym floor that's going to be put in," she said. "We market Parks and Recreation to the island's condo associations. We've got CPR classes, and ongoing projects such as signage on the boulevard and the creation of 'running/fitness trails', bike safety classes and we're trying to form a 'Friends of Bay Oaks'.”

Looking to create a more visible entrance to Bay Oaks, Council then held a short discussion on possibly selling the Town-owned property at 216 Connecticut to purchase the vacant land next to Topp's (where The Reef used to be prior to Hurricane Charley).

Keri Hendry Weeg