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Hercules residents: please, save the trees

February 7, 2018
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

To quote Dr. Seuss's "The Lorax:" "I speak for the trees, for trees have no tongues."

Two Fort Myers Beach residents took up the role of the Lorax at Monday's Town Council meeting to protest losing their street's trees to stormwater outfalls.

"They tagged 45 trees to be removed," said Barry Hazen of Hercules Drive.

Article Photos

Tape marks the trees on Hercules Drive that are encroaching on the town's right of way. Hercules Drive is one of the streets which will be used as a joint outfall for the town and county's stormwater system.

Hercules Drive is slated for a Lee County stormwater outfall. That means any personal property located in the street's right of way has to be removed for work to be done.

Hazen was joined by neighbor Marti Campbell to ask the town to do something to help keep the trees on their street.

Hazen said he and his neighbors were only notified five days in advance.

He and others received a notice in the mail that crews would be on their street marking items in the right of way. Then, crews came and marked the princess palms that line Hercules - giving residents two days to try to figure out if they could hire a contractor to relocate the trees.

However, an email notification dated Jan. 2 from the ReFresh Estero Boulevard outreach coordinators, Cella Molnar, warned residents of Connecticut and Hercules that crews would begin construction for the waterlines and stormwater projects and reminded residents that the surveyors would be marking the town's right of ways on each street and that all personal property should be removed by the resident or it would be removed by the contractor, but not replaced, except for mailboxes and driveway pavers.

"The Town is reclaiming their right of way. They have the ability to do that," said Kaye Molnar, President of CellaMolnar.

Connecticut and Hercules are both joint outfalls.

The notices sent out in January and again later on Jan. 24 warned residents that surveyors would begin marking vegetation, trees or other structures that encroached the town's right of way on Jan. 26 and residents had until Feb. 5 to relocate items they wanted to keep. Molnar said technically Hercules will have a little more time than that because Connecticut will be done first.

"The stakes are here for you," Molnar said. "They help you determine if personal property items are in the right of way. The contractor will try to place them aside but he has a job to do, and it's not in his contract to put trees back in."?In some cases, the contractor really can't just put the trees back in the town's reclaimed right of way. Tree roots can damage the storm pipe over time or block it from draining, Molnar said.

"If someone needs to replant a tree, they need to replant it on their property," she said.

It's been a similar story throughout much of the stormwater project.. Estero Boulevard and other side street residents had their right-of-ways cleared to make way for the new and upgraded utilities, too.

"Our message has always been to look for the survey stakes, those marks help determine if there are things in the right of way that need to be removed," Molnar said. "Mitchell & Stark has been doing very good to work around things when they can, but they have to build a system that works."

Molnar provided the Observer with several notices sent out dating back to 2014, reminding residents on Donora Boulevard, Eucalyptus Court and Jefferson Street, Estrellita Drive and Little Carlos Court and Virginia Avenue with similar language and similar time frames about those streets' right of way clearing.

It's not the first time Hercules residents have felt slighted by local government. Hazen pointed out he and his neighbors were still wrestling with another decision that was taken out of their hands.

"We started out with losing our dock," he said. "What can you do to save our trees?"

Council members agreed to discuss what could be done to address residents' concerns about losing their trees. Vice Mayor Tracey Gore said the town just needed to provide residents with a way to mark the trees they'd like the contractor to set aside and not destroy. She said she thought there had been some miscommunication about what could happen to the trees in the right of way.

The board will spend time discussing a short-term solution at Thursday's planning meeting and decided they wanted to discuss it at length for the rest of the island at a future meeting.

"Connecticut Street also has many trees marked. Jefferson Street too," Council Member Anita Cereceda said. "Is there a way to relocate these trees? We have a tree program, we're a tree city."

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt agreed to entertain the discussion and add it to the Thursday agenda, but said, "the financial commitment, we'll have to discuss."



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