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UEP, fertilizer ordinance on Council workshop agenda

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Nov 19, 2020

The newly remade Cape Coral City Council will begin to get the wheels in motion regarding the North 1 Utilities Expansion Project when it meets for its first workshop Monday since the new council members were sworn in.

Council is expected to discuss how the long-awaited project will be funded, having already entered into an agreement with Tetra Tech, for the engineering and design in August and issued an RFP in October for a bank loan of $10.6 million for the design funding.

A short-term loan will be taken out with long-term Special Assessment Bonds, which will also fund construction, expected to start in 2022.

The loan will be secured by water and sewer revenues, with assessments not expected to be levied until November 2022.

According to a presentation by interim Financial Services Director Chris Phillips, the city recommends accepting the proposal from PNC, one of five bidders on the project, based on the more favorable terms and interest rates.

The interest rate was 0.742 percent as of Oct. 28 and will be set on Dec. 11. The final maturity will be Dec. 1, 2023 and can be repaid without penalty beginning Dec. 1, 2022.

Councilmember Jennifer Nelson said she is hoping for a much smoother project as opposed to North 2, which had its share of issues.

“The last project had its challenges, among them was the perception it was overbudget. What was forgotten is that we deferred maintenance for seven years,” Nelson said. “Everything had to be rebid seven years later and the cost went up. I hope this process is more communicative in regards to the residents, and trash, which was a problem.”

The resolution will be introduced on Dec. 7, with a vote coming on Dec. 14.

Also on the agenda will be a staff presentation on an update on a proposed fertilizer ordinance, with was struck down on Aug. 10 after council split the vote 4-4 on the measure.

Following the vote, Nelson convened a stakeholders meeting on Oct. 2 with landscapers, environmentalists and others to address concerns.

Nelson said that meeting was very enlightening, and that she learned that it’s always helpful to listen to both sides of the issue.

“One of the biggest mistakes I made was I didn’t reach out to the other side, the landscapers or exterminators or businesses impacted by this ordinance,” Nelson said. “I brought several members of the landscaping industry into the room along with environmentalists and we had a good balance.”

Algae and water quality have become a major concern following the severe algal blooms in 2018 that left many of the city’s canals with a thick green slime floating on top, killing much animal life and having a sever impact on the area’s economy.

Those and other blue-green algae blooms in 2005, 2009, 2010, and 2016 were associated with releases from Lake Okeechobee. A minor bloom this past summer was not associated with Lake O.

It is believed that fertilizer from people’s lawns had an impact and has contributed to poor water quality in suburban areas because development has resulted in more impervious surfaces (such as driveways and the house itself) on developed properties, according to a presentation made for Council.

That water then runs off into the canal system, with all the pollutants with it. With nearly every property in the city within 1,000 feet from a waterway, it has become a major problem.

This can be very costly financially. A Martin County study reported that $5 worth of phosphorus in fertilizer introduced in the waterways costs government $5,000 to $50,000 to remove through capital projects, which would cost Cape Coral millions without prevention.

The current ordinance prohibits application of fertilizer within a 10-foot buffer of seawall, except hand fertilizing, and prohibits plant debris into waterways.

The new ordinance is expected to keep the 10-foot buffer and the four-month prohibition, which was slated to increase to six months under the new ordinance, Nelson said, adding, “We don’t need nitrogen in our fertilizer since the ground water is already full of it.”

“I think I learned a valuable lesson as a councilperson and that is to be fair and collaborate, which I’m usually pretty good at,” Nelson said. “I didn’t think how it would affect their business, although they admitted that something had to be done.”

Council meets at 4:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.

All meetings are open to the public.