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Matlacha annexation challenged

Mediation notice sent to city of Cape Coral

January 6, 2017
By ED FRANKS ( , Pine Island Eagle

The city of Cape Coral was put on notice Thursday that its annexation plans for six city-owned lots in Matlacha will be challenged.

The Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District sent a resolution to put the annexation on hold pending mediation.

The action was taken pursuant to Statute 164, which stipulates that "governmental disputes" must be mediated. In this case the dispute is between the city of Cape Coral and the MPIFCD related to public safety.

The district alleges that proper legal notification was not provided before Cape Coral City Council voted last month to annex the parcels comprising about 5 acres.

"There are two things that keeps Pine Island sovereign," Fire Commissioner Michael Dreikorn said at a meeting held Wednesday and attended by about 150 islanders opposed to the annexation. "First the independent water company and second is the elected commissioners of the fire department. Last week the Fire Commission voted unanimously that it is in our best interests for us to engage in an 'administrative process' under Statute 164 which requires the city of Cape Coral to mediate this matter with the Fire Control District."

The meeting held at Station #1 was headed by presidents of three of the island's civic associations: Dreikorn, president of the Bokeelia Civic Association; Roger Wood, president of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association, and Kristine "Birdi" Smock, president of the Matlacha Civic Association.

"Why are we here?" Dreikorn asked. "We are here because Cape Coral, on very short notice, decided to annex property on Matlacha. And then at the meeting of the Cape Coral City Council, when maybe a hundred of us showed up in protest of the annexation, the council responded with 'We don't report to you - we report to our citizens, the voters of Cape Coral."

If the property is annexed and Cape Coral zoning applies, the properties would no longer come under the protection of the Pine Island Plan, critics said.

"We believe this move by Cape Coral to annex these properties and bring them under the Cape's zoning laws will directly impact our quality of life - not just in Matlacha but on all of Pine Island," Smock said.

Wood took a similar view.

"I, like everyone else, was stunned when I heard that Cape Coral was going to annex part of Matlacha," Wood said. "We have to do everything we can to try to stop this. We are fighting to save the character of Pine Island and Matlacha."

The meeting at Fire House No.1 was one in a series of well-attended meetings at the fire department and the Greater Pine Island Civic Association in response to the city's annexation of these properties some islanders call "the gateway to Matlacha."

Noel Andress, a Pine Island resident who represents District 1 on the Lee County Planning Commission and a board member of the Southwest Florida Watershed Council, addressed the crowd.

"One of the main reason a city annexes is because that area is not receiving services," Andress said. "Well guess what, that area of Matlacha is being provided services and we're providing those services."

The Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District provides services to an area of about 45 square miles, including the communities of Bokeelia, Pineland, Pine Island Center, St. James City, Matlacha Isles and Cape Royal in addition to Matlacha.

According to the district's website, those services include "fire suppression, Basic and Advanced Life Support in conjunction with Lee County EMS, rescue services, vehicle extrication, fire inspections, fire prevention programs, public education, and boat operations."

More than 20 island residents let the Cape Coral City Council know of their unhappiness at the board's Dec. 12 meeting where the annexation was approved 4-3 with Councilmember Rick Williams unsuccessfully asking to postpone the vote until February to allow more discussion and to "work with them to straighten out a lot of misinformation that is out there."

The parcel is made up of six individual lots that the city purchased in 2012 in a package of 491 parcels for $13 million, a deal that also included the Seven Islands property in northwest Cape Coral. The parcels under consideration for annexation serve as a parking lot for the boat launch ramp at D & D Bait & Tackle. The city wants to add the property to its parks plan and improve the ramp access points.

City officials had no information on the resolution Thursday. It had not yet been received.

The law underwhich the fire district filed further stipulates that "Mediation means a process whereby a neutral third person called a 'mediator' acts to encourage and facilitate the resolution of a conflict between two or more parties. The role of the mediator includes, but is not limited to, assisting the parties in identifying issues and exploring settlement alternatives."

A legal defense fund has been set up to cover legal expenses and retain a Florida licensed attorney to help Pine Island residents oppose Cape Coral's annexation of its properties in Matlacha.

Donations to the Matlacha Annexation Legal Defense Fund may be made online at Donations can also be made by mail to the Matlacha Civic Association, PO Box 121, Matlacha, FL 33933. Write 'Matlacha Annexation Fund' in the memo line.



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