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Council retreat revisits old projects, intros new

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Feb 1, 2023

At the very beginning of the Cape Coral City Council winter retreat on Thursday, City Manager Rob Hernandez gave a presentation on “13 Ways to Kill your Community,” a book by Doug Griffiths he read while at a city managers convention.

Besides the typical ones like lack of commercial, not knowing your strengths and weaknesses, shutting out the youth and seniors, the top one that stood out was water quality.

“Communities that don’t have quality water are always failing and won’t be successful,” Hernandez said. “People no longer demand it, they expect it.”

That, and numerous other topics, came up during a two-day retreat at the Nicholas Parkway Annex, which served as a kickoff to the budget season. As a retreat is a kind of in-depth workshop, no votes were cast, but lots of discussion was had on the more pressing city topics.

As far as water quality went, Utilities Director Jeff Pearson warned that there needs to be enough water at buildout in 20 or so years, but that it would be hard to get there without conservation efforts.

The city’s five water treatment plants will require expansions in the coming years, with the North RO plant slated for that in four years.

“The system must be designed for the Super Bowl Halftime Flush, a worst-case scenario. We need to do a better job educating residents on the importance of water and conservation,” Pearson said.

Without conservation, 136 million gallons of irrigation water will be needed daily. With conservation, it would be an estimated 93.5 million gallons. The city, using its twice a week watering system, is helping in that regard, officials said.

But where will the city get the rest of its water, particularly drinking water? By 2040, the city will need more than 32 million gallons per day and 48 million by buildout. The current permitted capacity is 30 million gallons per day.

Alternate ways include the Southwest Aggregate mine in Charlotte County, which would cost $50 million to $80 million. Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells would cost between $150 million and $320 million, while a desalination plant, a last resort, could cost up to a half-billion dollars.

“Desalination requires a ton on energy and its own power plant. Tampa Bay is seeing the problem right now,” Pearson said.

City staff recommended the city purchase the Southwest Aggregate property to provide future capital cost avoidance, diversify the water supply and could provide a solution to three major water issues in the region.

Council also discussed numerous projects and initiatives, some of which have been in the queue for years. The old golf course acreage came back as the owners of the property again expressed interest in selling the property to the city before putting it up for general sale.

While the cost estimate in 2017 was $13 million, it could now cost up to $80 million for costs of improvement, officials said. The city could use reserves to pay for it (which would drop them to 1.75 months of total operation costs, well below 2.5 month policy), issue debt of $1.1 million for 20 years or a combination of both.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden was supportive at first, but said she wasn’t anymore. Councilmember Bill Steinke said they need to make the best use of the property.

“We’re doing this for beautification and things to do with families. We have to be willing to pay the price for what we want to do,” Steinke said. “This place was a draw 50 years ago and it can be again.”

The city also talked about privatizing the city-owned golf course, Coral Oaks, and other years-old plans such as D&D Boat Ramp and the Bimini Basin Mooring Field and what such projects could look like.

The elected board discussed the legislative priorities for the upcoming 2023 state legislative session, first and foremost legislation that will provide funding to local municipalities impacted by Hurricane Ian.

The city also wants state support for more affordable housing, its proposed involuntary annexation proposal, environmental sustainability and to protect home rule authority by leaving such decisions as regulations for short-term rentals and home-based businesses to local governments, not state authority.

The proposed Legislative Agenda is on council’s regular meeting agenda, which will begin at 4:30 p.m. today at City Hall, 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.