Commissioner John Manning, who was the guest speaker for the Matlacha Civic Association monthly meeting Tuesday night, spoke about the Ceitus Boat Lift before a crowd of very interested residents. He also answered a number of questions.
He told those in attendance that he will continue to fight to put the barrier back in because it is a salinity issue that is taking place.
"That water has to be spread into the mangroves and Matlacha Pass," Manning said, adding that they will hopefully get that area back. "We need to preserve the characters of places like Matlacha and Pine Island."
He said they are gathering information with salinity counts at various locations to show the situation that they have.
"We are not getting the flow that we need to bring that ecosystem back," Manning said. "Let's do the right thing and get the thing fixed."
The dialogue was brought forth last week because of the Lee County Commissioners meeting that addressed the Ceitus barrier and the upcoming mediation to be held with the Cape Coral City Council.
John Turner, chief assistant county attorney, said during the Tuesday commissioners meeting that as part of the Chapter 164 Government Resolution Dispute Process, a scheduled mediation will take place March 6.
"This is a systemic process," he said, adding that there has been no litigation set at this point.
Turner said the mediation is a method which will hopefully resolve the Ceitus barrier issue without litigation.
He told the commissioners that the Ceitus Boat Lift is not the only problem; there is also a concern with giving direction to staff to pursue the necessary steps to see if the boatlift or barrier should be installed after it was removed by the city.
Those necessary steps included the acquisition of approximately 40 various pieces of equipment to use to monitor the area. Turner said several experts in the field are looking at acquiring data as to the conditions of the area and water quality and hydrology.
"We are developing and managing a collection of that data now," he said.
Turner then shared three different options that are available on how to address and develop a strategy for the entire area that has been affected by the removal of the barrier.
The first option is to continue with the mediation that has been scheduled for next month. Turner said they would present the evidence and data collected, along with the analysis that has been made at the meeting.
Another option would be to delay the mediation to some future date, to allow for collection of additional data.
"Data we have today may not be sufficient in terms of the city's viewpoint," Turner said of Cape Coral. "The more data we collect the better the opinion."
The last option is to discontinue or end the Chapter 164 proceedings. He said they could seek to include other governmental entities that should be involved like the Department of Environmental Protection, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Army Core of Engineers.
Commissioner Tammy Hall said the reason the county is in mediation and not in court is because DEP denied the permit to the city of Cape Coral to replace the boatlift. She said they put together a $500,000 budget to go into mediation, with more than 50 percent already being spent.
"If the city says good luck, you are on your own," she asked. "What are you looking at then?"
Turner said the budget should take them through data gathering.
"When we discussed this and discussed this budget, it was with the hopes that it would include everything," he said, adding that it is something they have to monitor.
Hall said what bothers her the most is they are looking at spending $1.5 to $2 million on the issue before the end.
"I can take the same amount of money and put it into the actual projects needed," she said. "We are not going to resolve anything in mediation. We are not any further ahead."
Hall said she does not see where the environment is going to benefit from the process they have taken.
"The world has not come to an end since the lift has come out," she said.
Commissioner Frank Mann shared that he has had great frustration with the entire project since 2008.
"I still don't have confidence in the position we are taking and I don't know what that position is," he said. "The dialogue between the county and city of Cape Coral has seemed to be fairly useless. A lot of talking and not listening."
Mann said he would like the last attempt during the mediation to try and articulate what the county's position is, so they can clearly understand what the differences are between them and the city of Cape Coral.
"I am frustrated and I am looking for resolution for this thing," he said.
Mann asked where the evidence of the damage is since the removal of the barrier.
"If this was so bad and this has been going on for five years, where is the evidence of the damage, where are the parade of horrible issues that was supposed to happen because of this blowout," he said.
Commissioner Larry Kiker said he flew into the issue a year ago and it seems to him that they are trying to force a discussion with the city of Cape Coral.
"I don't know if we can force that discussion as far as relying on scientific data," he said. "I don't want to be put in a position to decide which scientist is right and wrong."
Kiker said he did not think they needed another go around with the Cape Coral.
"I'm not in favor of letting this thing go on any longer," he said.
Manning suggested that they continue to at least go through the March 6 mediation.
"I'm willing to give that a try," he said.
After much discussion, the commissioners agreed that Manning, along with other county staffers, should attend the mediation with the Cape Coral council members.