Saying county officials are using tax money to sue taxpayers, the Cape Coral City Council expressed outrage Monday at a commission decision to allocate $500,000 to sue the city over the Ceitus boat lift.
The county wants the lift, which was removed four years ago, replaced although the Florida Department of Environmental Protection turned down a city permit request and recommends that a barrier not be re-installed into the so-called Seven-mile Spreader canal.
City Council was joined by members of the public in its displeasure over the Board of County Commissioner's action last week, which even made a resolution to council to see it to the FDEP ruling sticks.
"We're not getting a fair shake. The BOCC isn't playing the game the right way," Mayor John Sullivan said. "They've been doing this to Cape Coral for years."
The resolution, brought forth by David Scott, a local geologist, and Nate Bliss, would end discussion with the BOCC regarding the Ceitus boat lift, as they maintain the county has no authority or standing on the issue. That goes to the FDEP.
City Council said they would reword the ordinance and bring it forth.
"This has to do with the perversion of government and the corruption of government," Scott said. "The BOCC is responding to the puppet masters that view this is an environmental icon that was removed."
The FDEP rejected the boat lift replacement last year, saying the previous barrier had caused breaches to the canal system and that replacement would cause that problem again.
Despite that, in February, Lee County threatened to sue Cape Coral if the lift was not put back in.
This led to a meeting on May 15 where both sides agreed to wait 180 days for the next meeting to make sure the data was complete.
Sullivan said the meeting was constructive and that he thought they could negotiate something without the need of litigation.
But on July 31, in a last-minute "blue sheet" item, the BOCC voted to go ahead and sue the city to force the boat lift rebuild.
"I thought that May 15 meeting was the last attempt to play nice," Councilmember Rana Erbrick said. "It's like getting kicked in the teeth."
City Manager John Szerlag said the BOCC's plan of attack would be an administrative appeal to the FDEP, followed by an appearance in the FDEP Dept. of Hearings, then, if need be, court.
Cape Coral's contention is it has data and the FDEP decision on its side, while the BOCC factually has no leg to stand on.
"There is no data to support putting the barrier back in is anything but bad for the environment," Scott said.
"I have 306 pages of the North Spreader Eco-Management agreement that was worked on for two years, well-vetted science and that's where Cape Coral and the Florida DEP have made their conclusion that the boat lift should not be replaced," said Councilmember Kevin McGrail.
McGrail said replacement of the boatlift would not only kill mangroves, but would be fruitless because the lift would only last five years, according to the data collected.
"It's like building a house on the side of a cliff," McGrail said. "Spending millions on something that may not last five years. Why would you do that?
"The BOCC voted to fund pseudo-science because there's no scientist pushing forth this issue," McGrail said.
Sullivan said the best way the city can flex its muscles is at the voting booth.
"We've been a stepchild for decades. It's time to stand up and go to the ballots and bring our discontent to the neighborhood associations," Sullivan said. "I'm tired of us getting kicked around."
In addition to the county, a number of local environmental groups involved in a two-year discussion on how to best mitigate environmental issues concerning the lift and the surrounding watershed support the barrier's replacement.