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Lee’s Parks and Rec director addresses GPICA

Topics discussed included pickleball courts, marina improvements, the proposed Doppler radar tower, more

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Jan 13, 2021

The Greater Pine Island Civic Association again discussed the Doppler radar tower WINK News hopes to build on property at 4798 Stringfellow Road in St. James City. FILE PHOTO

pleblanc@breezenewspapers.com

The Greater Pine Island Civic Association held an online Zoom meeting Tuesday, Jan. 5. Topping the agenda was a presentation by the director of Lee County Parks and Recreation, Jesse Lavender, who spoke on local community projects, such as pickleball courts at Phillips Park and improvements at Pine Island Commercial Marina.

The lots beside the Garden Club, said Lavender, were purchased a little over a year ago. They were then re-zoned through the hearing examiner to allow consultation for the construction of new pickleball courts. According to Lavender, the project should be done before the end of 2021. There will be three courts there, he said, as allowable by the space.

Consideration of future paths or public restrooms is another consideration for the location. As with any development order, Lavender said, necessary public parking will be added for the location. Since most of the court usage will seemingly be in the morning, Lavender said whether or not lights are added for nighttime use is a discussion that may come up in the future.

Improvements for the Pine Island Commercial Marina, located at the end of Maria Drive, are in their third and final phase, of what has been so far at least a five-year project, Lavender said. The first few phases, he said, were to fix the boat ramp, docks and barge landing. This phase is to dredge the canal, replace the docks and seawall, add trailer spots and a pathway.

The cost, he said, is approximately $700,000, pending a compromise with the fire marshall, who wants to see a pipeline water main connection to the end of Maria Drive.

“Unfortunately, that’s going to cost more than the project,” said Lavender, adding that a compromise is in the works, such as adding a well to allow sufficient water in the event of a fire. Lavender said each dock will be equipped with fire extinguishers, and hopefully an agreement can be reached so the permit to begin work will be granted.

If there is an incurred cost to build a necessary pipeline, Lavender said it will be absorbed through impact fees and regional park funds. While Lavender could not say directly who would be ultimately responsible for the fees, he did say, without a compromise on the pipeline issue, the project would be on hold until funds were made available to complete it.

The ongoing issue of water testing and signage at Tropical Point Park was brought up to Lavender, who said he would look into it.

An evaluation is under way of all the island preserves, Lavender said, to ascertain whether or not there may be accessible hiking trail and paddling systems added.

Another expressed need, he said, is having an off-leash dog park on the island, which is being considered on purchased property, which will also be used as a temporary site for hurricane debris.

Board of directors member Helen Fox encouraged everyone to take the GPICA survey, which can be found at gpica.org/survey in an effort to gauge which issues are most vital to islanders.

Member Jeff Waller presented an update regarding the status of the proposed Doppler radar tower on Stringfellow Road, which is currently pending a variance request through a hearing examiner. One of the key issues for islanders, Waller said, is the height of the proposed tower (110 feet), which will exceed the 90-foot height limitation for Lee County, and 45-foot height limitation for Pine Island. Another issue is whether or not the proposed tower reflects the coastal/rural land use in keeping with the character of the island. According to policy 24.44, Waller said, Coastal/Rural land use is restricted to minor commercial development, defined as animal clinics, bait and tackle shops and the like.

“WINK asked for a 30-day extension to get information back to the zoning and planning department, in response to the questions they asked, and that goes until Jan. 15,” said Waller. “Assuming they meet that deadline by Jan. 30, the county will make a determination on sufficiency of the application or send it back for more information. If it is deemed sufficient then there will be a hearing scheduled in the next 60 days, or by March 30.”

Waller has summoned help from many locals in various positions in an effort to gain knowledge as to how best to represent islanders’ growing concerns with the proposed tower. Chief among them is resident and retired meteorologist Mike Rapsik, who has extensive experience through the National Weather Service. According to Rapsik, the claim that Pine Island and specifically south Florida is lacking in sufficient radar coverage, is simply untrue.

“That’s blatantly false,” said Rapsik. “There’s tremendous radar coverage that has been in effect for many many years — many decades. I think the people that are proposing this are trying to use a scare tactic.”

Rapsik said the answer to why someone might go through so much trouble to furnish the island with an unnecessary radar tower is likely money, possibly through a wider audience.

Rapsik was the National Weather Service radar operator during Hurricane Charley, which he said is a perfect example of what was available even then. If someone believes the area is not being covered, he said that’s simply not the truth.

Hurricane Charley, he said, although a disastrous storm, causing much damage, was small enough to fit within the eye of Hurricane Irma.

“Make no doubt about it,” said Rapsik, “it was always…always under the eyes of the National Weather Service.”

While he maintains that there are small uninhabited areas, such as the top of the Rocky Mountains, lacking radar weather coverage, that is the extent of the lack, since the government spent billions of taxpayer dollars making sure the National Weather Service could monitor any incoming inclement weather for every American.

“I can guarantee you in a state of 20+ million people that we have radar coverage everywhere,” Rapsik said. “There isn’t a need for this radar.”

Rapsik agreed to speak at the upcoming hearing regarding the tower.

Board member Debbie Memoli read the list of recently voted GPICA Board of Directors as Helen Fox, Tim Heights, Debbie Memoli, Mike Sweeney and Scott Wilkinson.