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Cape still waiting for bubble curtain permits

City Council also gets update on COVID cases as related hospitalizations hit record numbers

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Aug 19, 2021

The good news is that water quality in the Caloosahatchee River in the Cape Coral canals is still pretty good. The bad news is that at the rate things are going, the thing that is supposed to stop the threat of blue-green algae will arrive too late to do any good.

During the Cape Coral City Council’s regular meeting Wednesday, Mike Ilczyszyn, assistant public works director, said that the city still has not gotten the permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Florida Department and Environmental Protection it needs to install the nine bubble curtains it has ordered.

Among the concerns is that fisheries are worried what the curtains would do to the smalltooth sawfish, an endangered species, and their migration habits if the curtains are installed.

Ilczyszyn said he doesn’t think it will take long for the permits to come, maybe two weeks. However, that would take things to the beginning of September and, if it takes another four weeks for the curtains to be built and installed, that takes the city to the start of October and nearly to the start of dry season.

“We aren’t going to get these curtains until it’s too late. I don’t think this is going to help us this year,” Councilmember Gloria Tate said. “We did this 20 years ago. Why go through this when we have no algae?”

Blue-green algae blooms are still present on Lake Okeechobee. In Lee County, blue-green algae toxins have not been detected in the past two weeks, officials said.

Ilczyszyn said the curtains will help in the ensuing years.

Council also heard from Michael Nachef, vice president of government relations from Lee Health, about the state of the county’s hospitals, especially Cape Coral Hospital as COVID cases continue to spike the state.

Lee Health hospitals have 1,489 patients in its roughly 1,500 beds. They are working to get another 100 beds, Nachef said, adding this is the most beds Lee Health has ever required. Of those in the hospitals, 605 are COVID positive (86 percent of them unvaccinated), with 40 to 60 of them being discharged daily. Unfortunately, they are also taking in 80 to 100 COVID patients a day.

“The Delta variant is latching on at a cellular level, People are getting sicker easier,” Nachef said. “The average time a COVID patients stays at the hospital is 6.5 days as opposed to 12 to 14 days at the onset of the pandemic. We’ve learned a great deal in the treatment of this illness.”

Cape Coral Hospital has 305 total beds and 289 admitted patients and 19 boarders in emergency, meaning they have more patients than beds. There are 153 who are COVID positive, 24 are in intensive care with 23 on ventilators, Nachef said.

While the supply chain has caught up with personal protection equipment, there is a shortage of oxygen caused by delivery and not supply.

In other business:

– Council approved the issuance of up to $30 million of General Obligation Bonds “to finance the acquisition, construction and equipping of the city’s parks.”

Resident Tom Shadrach again spoke against, saying that the cost of the city’s parks plan when completed will come in higher than originally budgeted, exceeding the amount of the voter-approved $60 million total GO Bond. He also said it is unrealistic to think all components will be completed in three years.

Mayor John Gunter said there is a good reason for any time delay, pointing out that things have changed substantially since 2018 when funding was approved.

“The goal was to have them completed in three to five years, and there was nothing mentioned about a pandemic,” Gunter said.

City Manager Rob Hernandez reiterated that the first five parks to be finished will come in on time and on budget. For the remainder, which will involve much more complex work, he can’t say, though it is likely the total plan will top $60 million due to increased construction and land acquisition costs.

Any cost overruns will be funded by reserves, Hernandez said.

– Adrian C. Costa and James Litterello were appointed to the Construction Regulation Board. Martha Hill was appointed to the Community Development Block Grant and John Caltagirone was appointed to the Nuisance Abatement Board.

– On the consent agenda, Council approved a partnership agreement with Summit Broadband which will allow for the application of a U.S. Department of Commerce NTIA grant to fund fiber-optic broadband internet for an underserved area of the city.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. Tom Shadrach is not a member of the Budget Review Committee.