It might be a record, but council unanimously approved two stormwater items in one meeting.
At its Monday, March 6 meeting, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council approved moving forward with 30 percent design plans for the island's stormwater system as well as approving construction for the next four joint outfalls in Segment 2.
The 30 percent design plans will be completed by Tetra Tech for $393,578. This approval will give the town a tool to determine if, what, where, how and when stormwater infrastructure will be implemented street by street. By using the surveys the town is already taking for the potable water system, Tetra Tech can use that data to model each street's needs - whether that's a swale system, a rehabilitation of its current infrastructure, or a new pipe in the ground.
Public Works Director Scott Baker talks with residents using a life-sized representation of a 30-foot wide street in council chambers.
But it took some convincing to gain the five ayes. The same 30 percent plan was presented in January and was denied by a 3-2 vote.
"The information contained in this proposal is critical to determine where we will proceed for the rest of the island," Interim Town Manager Jim Steele said. "This request is extremely critical."
Several council members remained concerned at the need to look at the whole island, rather than just tackle the streets that flood right now.
Flooding is not the only determinant in the stormwater system - a street may not be flooding now because it is at a higher elevation than another street and drains onto its neighbor's roadway, instead.
"You have to put flooding aside and think about the system. Whether or not a particular street floods is irrelevant in the entire system," said Council Member Anita Cereceda. "The streets are all linked. This system is designed to create equilibrium."
Lack of flooding on Hercules Drive caused its residents to express concerned at what some deemed an unnecessary measure during an informal public workshop Friday. The town and county held the meeting to help explain in more depth what Hercules was getting and why.
Hercules is getting an in-ground outfall as part of the town's interlocal agreement with Lee County - this outfall is shared between the town and the county for draining Estero Boulevard.
Staff set up a visual model of the street, measuring out where the town right of way was and where the different utilities would be placed. It wasn't to scale - staff actually measured out a 30-foot wide street and placed markers in council chambers to show residents exactly what it would look like under ground.
The outfalls will include a rubber duck bill valve - a rubber flaplike cap on the outfall pipe which will prevent tidal backflow from traveling back into the pipe.
Brett Messner of Tetra Tech and Scott Baker, Public Works Director, gave the same presentations at both Friday and Monday's meetings, showing residents and council the photos they had been able to take inside some of the town's existing pipe systems, to identify areas where the aging infrastructure had failed.
"Some streets, we will be able to do swales," Messner said.
The engineers, Steele and Baker all said they prefer swales as they are the most natural filtration system to clean the water. But swales can't be the sole solution to draining water. Swales are similar to ditches, but usually more shallow.
Most of the town's street have too narrow of a right of way to accommodate a swale - and the water table can be too high to make them effective in some areas.
Staff showed a mock-up of how much room a swale would take on a narrow, heavily-flooding street, such as Madison Court. Because of the water table's proximity to the surface, a swale would have to be 13 feet wide, and would leave just 12 feet for a roadway.
Frank Wilusz, a Madison Court resident, just wants the town to take action.
"It seems like there are people who think it will go away if we ignore it," he said. "And it's not. It's just going to get worse."
Others remained unconvinced at Friday's meeting.
Judy Haataja, who lives on Bayland Road, has been a staunch opponent of spending what she believes will be too much on stormwater infrastructure.
She said doesn't know what solution would be the most cost effective, but she thinks the stormwater user fee is a burden to some island residents. She'd also like to see more natural methods like swales used.
"I would rather hear them say they are taking care of the streets that flood," she said. "We're leaving that decision up to them, and they will overspend."
Haataja's street drains itself within 24 hours by her estimation. If streets are flooded for 24 or 48 hours, they probably do need help she said, but doing the entire island doesn't make sense to her.
"It's a lack of trust in what decisions are being made by staff," she said.
However, the three town council members who originally voted against 30 percent plans were convinced to vote in favor of the next step as it will outline what streets should get what kind of system and give cost estimates.
The 30 percent plans will also allow the town to have more input to work with the county on the rest of the shared outfalls on the island.
"I understand why we need to have a survey. I want to make sure we have a good understanding of our priorities," Joanne Shamp said. "So this isn't the moment to be particular."
The 30 percent plans only draw up preliminary designs. Staff would still have to come back to the council to approve any construction.
Town Council also approved the construction of the four Segment 2 joint outfalls at a cost of $2.1 million. The four streets are Eucalyptus Street, Jefferson Street, Hercules Drive and Bayview Avenue. The town already committed to these joint outfalls in the interlocal agreement with the county, and the county will reimburse the town in the amount of $164,000, bringing the town's expense to $1.96 million.