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GPICA discusses Calusa Cay project

Kayaks, palmetto berries also on agenda

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Sep 22, 2021

An early site plan for the Publix store to be built on Pine Island. FILE PHOTO

pleblanc@breezenewspapers.com

At the monthly meeting of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association, president Helen Fox reported that a letter was sent from the GPICA to the Lee County Development of Operations manager regarding the overwhelmingly negative response of islanders at the public information meeting concerning the building of the Pine Island Publix and Orchid Cove Town homes project, held on June 29, at the Pine Island Methodist Church.

A public hearing for the Calusa Cay project regarding the new Publix Plaza will be held Thursday, Sept. 23, at 9 a.m., in Lee County Board Chambers at 2120 Main St., in Fort Myers, at which time, arguments for and against amendments will be weighed by a hearing examiner who will then make a recommendation, and a case will be scheduled for another public hearing before the Board of County Commissioners. These amendments consist of adding a package store, located 319 feet from Pine Island Elementary School, rather than 500 feet, which is required by law.

Island residents, said Fox, uniformly opposed the changes.

“The catch is,” said Fox, “if you don’t appear before the hearing examiner you cannot address the commissioners at the second hearing, where the decision will actually be made. So we’re getting a group together to appear and speak at the first public hearing, then hopefully at the second public hearing. If you’re able and willing to be a part of these hearings, please let us know. We need to make a good showing. The more people we have — even if you don’t speak — if you just stand with the speakers, it will show that we really care about this issue.”

Fox further instructed the group that whomever does choose to speak will have to choose their argument carefully and should dress appropriately. Civic member Noel Andress reminded everyone that if they do not speak at the hearing, they won’t be allowed to address county commissioners regarding the project.

“It requires more than just attending the meeting,” said Andress. “If you want to speak to the commissioners than you have to speak at the hearing as well.”

Fox pointed out that someone could prepare something in advance, to be read at the hearing, to which Anders concurred that it would not only be allowed, but also entered into the record as one of the legal exhibits.

The public meeting concerning the Conservation Foundation kayak launch in St. James City has been re-scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 9, at Pine Island United Methodist Church. This meeting must be in-person and cannot be done via Internet. Fox said the meeting will proceed with adherence to CDC guidelines, baring any unforeseen incidents with COVID.

An item on the agenda of some importance was the harvesting of palmetto berries in designated preservation areas on Pine Island. Andress explained that island residents had been asked to notify authorities if anyone was seen picking palmetto berries. After having done that however, he was told Pine Island was chosen as a pilot project.

“We also reached out to the Fish and Wildlife Commission,” said Andress. “They told us harvesting saw palmetto berries was not a resource management practice and they’re very destructive to the plant and animal life because when the saw palmetto berries fall to the ground they re-seed the saw palmettos because they’re difficult to grow and the gopher tortoises — this is their main food.”

Palmetto berries, said Fox, are often used in naturopathic medicine, making them very lucrative to harvesters.

“That’s why so many people pick them, even though it’s illegal to do it,” said Fox.

Board member Nadine Slimak gave an update on the septic to sewer conversion project, saying there was a task force created specifically for this.

“Obviously we know there are water quality issues surrounding Pine Island,” said Slimak. “We also know the reasons for these issues are many and varied. A lot of them are beyond our control. They require political solutions at the county, state and federal levels.”

A letter was sent to the utilities director of Lee County, in addition to all county commissioners, requesting priority restoration, Slimak said. The county, she said, has undertaken a $700,00 wastewater management plan, as of June.

“We asked that we receive top consideration, as they are writing this plan,” said Slimak.

After much deliberation, changes were made to the GPICA bylaws with board amendments and approval. Among these changes, said Fox, was an increase in yearly dues, member rights, access to the membership list, terms of office, rules of quorum, internet presence, treasurer duties, changes in committees and duties concerning election.

For additional information about the GPICA, please visit https://gpica.org/