December 20, 2016
Lee County sets focus on water quality, land conservation in 2017
Lee County set its wish list for next year.
Commissioners unanimously adopted, without discussion, the federal and state legislative platforms for 2017, and most of the state agenda deals with water quality and land conservation.
The county has had some issues with water quality in the past, Commission Chairman John Manning said, and a 100-year storm event in January exacerbated the situation.
Manning said the county set its sights there because water quality is a "tourism ingredient," and land conservation will provide a balanced approach as the county continues to focus on growth management.
The state legislative session begins March 7 and is scheduled to end May 5. Here are the three main topics the county plans to focus on with state legislators:
1. Water Quality
The issue of water quality is big in Southwest Florida, and it's only getting bigger. The county plans to ask the state for $1.38 million in funding for water quality projects, with the county willing to match more than $2 million.
That money would be spread out to cover four projects: plugging wells to maintain healthy aquifers, canal rehabilitation for the Caloosahatchee River, water treatment at Lakes Park and hydrological restoration at Wild Turkey Strand Preserve.
The county also plans to ask for continued, dedicated state funding for the Caloosahatchee reservoir, and funding to complete a water quality treatment testing facility on property purchased jointly by the county and the South Florida Water Management District.
The Caloosahatchee reservoir, which is part of the Everglades restoration, will cost about $600 million and will hold about 55 billion gallons of water. It's the largest Everglades project for Lee and Hendry counties.
2. Land conservation
County officials asked if people wanted them to continue buying property for conservation, and the voters answered. In November, 84 percent voted in favor of Lee County's Conservation 20/20 program.
And now, county officials want the state to help keep it going. The county wants the state to allocate money for county land conservation and management programs, as officials turn their focus to acquiring the environmentally sensitive property on Edison Farms in southeast Lee.
Lee County's 20/20 program has spent more than $300 million to acquire about 25,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands for restoration and preservation, according to documents prepared by the county.
3. Justice, mental health, substance abuse
Bob Janes Triage Center, on Ortiz Avenue, has a proven track record of enhancing public safety and reducing criminal justice expenditures, according to the documents prepared by the county.
The county plans to ask legislators to increase funding for the criminal justice, mental health and substance abuse local matching grant program, which would help facilities like the triage center.
The main goal is to reduce the number of individuals with known mental illness or substance abuse disorders who were arrested and taken to the county jail for low-level offenses, according to the triage center's website.