Pine Island Eagle

March 22, 2017

Matlacha Civic Association addresses concerns

By ED FRANKS

http://www.pineisland-eagle.com/page/content.detail/id/543087/Matlacha-Civic-Association-addresses-concerns.html?nav=5051

The Matlacha Civic Association held its monthly meeting Wednesday, updating citizens on the Fire District lawsuit, water quality issues in Southwest Florida and the lawsuit against Cape Coral's annexation of property on Matlacha.

About 35 people were present.

Matlacha Pine Island Fire Control District Commissioner Michael Dreikorn updated the crowd on the pending legal case against Cape Coral from the Fire District.

"As an island, we need to watch our own back because no one's going to watch it for us," Dreikorn said. "We've seen that as a result of the December meeting with Cape Coral and their decision to annex part of Matlacha."

On Monday, Dec. 12, the Cape Coral City Council voted to annex six lots on Matlacha Island to the city of Cape Coral. 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 the Cape City Council annexed 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.

"One of the things we did was to have the Fire Control District file a lawsuit under Statute 164," Dreikorn said. "Statute 164 stipulates that 'governmental disputes' must be mediated. In this case, the dispute between the city of Cape Coral and the M/PIFCD is related to public safety."

The M/PIFCD filed a letter to the city of Cape Coral and attached a resolution that outlines the grievances.

"Our initial grievance was, and still is, that Cape Coral didn't provide enough notification about the annexation," Dreikorn said. "The Greater Pine Island Water Association has their water pipes running under that property. There is also their own charter where the rules for annexation are and they didn't follow those either.

"Our first concern is safety and any increase in traffic," Dreikorn said. "How do you get an ambulance through there? The Cape doesn't even have a development plan for that property and there doesn't seem to be a public purpose for the property being annexed."

This letter led to a meeting with three representatives from Cape Coral and three representatives from Pine Island. The three representatives from Cape Coral were City Attorney Dolores Menendez, Deputy Attorney Steve Griffin, and Fire Chief Donald K. Cochran. The three representatives from Matlacha Pine Island Fire Control District were Fire Chief Benjamin Mickuleit;Dreikorn, a fire commissioner; and Attorney Beverly Grady. The meeting was mediated by Derek Rooney (Gray, Robinson law firm).

At the conclusion of the meeting, the M/PIFCD made several requests.

"We requested for input on any future rezoning of the property," Dreikorn said. "We also want deed restrictions against height fitting into the requirements of the Pine Island Plan. We would like to see triggers in the agreement letting us know if changes are going to be made. Our chief also asked for a service agreement. Our longer term goal is to get a sustainable agreement not one that can be overturned in four years."

Once final decisions are made, the agreement will be presented to the citizens of Pine Island for discussion through the various association on the island.

"Afterwards, the Cape Coral City Council needs to approve the final results," Dreikorn said. "If they don't approve it, the next step is mediation directly between the M/PIFCD commissioners and the Cape Coral City Council. The final step, if all else fails, is litigation. Your Fire Control District is absolutely committed to doing the right thing for this island."

The second order of business was "Calusa Waterkeeper" John Cassani's presentation of Southwest Florida's water quality. Cassani is with CalusaWater-keeper.org. Calusa Waterkeeper is a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the waters of Lee County. Cassani was at the meeting to discuss the drainage from Cape Coral into Matlacha Pass.

His professional career as an ecologist started in Lee County in 1978 after receiving degrees in biology and fish and wildlife. From 1978 to 2014, Cassani worked as a resource manager for local government, managing waterways of Southwest Florida.

"MS4 is just a acronym for Cape Coral's storm water program," Cassani said. "There is a 40-year history that started with the removal of the North Spreader barrier/boat lift which was an integral part of this stormwater treatment area. The barrier was removed in 2008 and as a result, stormwater runoff of about 804 acres entered Matlacha Pass without being treated by passing slowly through the mangroves."

Cassani was one of the petitioners who filed the lawsuit to have the lock put back in.

"We sued for compliance but withdrew our suit because the state concluded that 'no further action was necessary' for Cape Coral," Cassani said. "The issue at hand is the pollution of the watershed and a violation of the Clean Water Act. Our current litigation with Mike Hannon is asking for compliance with the consent order replacement of the barrier."

When asked If the petition is accepted and successful, what do you hope to accomplish, Hannon said, "We would like to see the barrier put back. This would be a perfect compromise. The Cape also agreed to build a filter marsh at Alligator Slough. In the mean time, nutrients are going up. The only way we're going to win this one is to go to federal court for non-compliance with the Clean Water Act."

Hannon concluded the meeting with an update on raising the funds necessary to fight the annexation.

"We are holding a 'Watercolors Gala' on Sunday, April 2, at St. James City Civic Association to raise funds for our case against the annexation," Hannon said. The gala will have live music, live and silent auctions, food from island restaurants and beer and wine."

All proceeds from the Watercolors Gala go toward the legal fund to fight for clean water, the Ceitus boat lift replacement and the anti-annexation of Matlacha land.

"If we're going to win this fight we'll need the funding," Hannon said. "Our claim is that Cape Coral snookered us by not giving us time to object to the annexation. We have $40,000 in the fund now and will need $100,000 to litigate this."

The Watercolors Gala is $60 per person and $100 per couple. Tickets are available on the website www.MatlachaCivicAssociation.org; CW Fudge Factory, 4548 Pine Island Road, Matlacha; and the Matlacha Civic Association. Make checks out to Matlacha Civic Association (NOTE: Tickets Environmental Fund on check).

For more information, visit Pine Island Strong on Facebook or email Pine-IslandStrong@gmail.com