Between 45 and 50 people attended the Greater Pine Island Civic Association meeting last Tuesday night. GPICA President Roger Wood provided a progress report on incorporating Pine Island and Matlacha.
"One of the issues we face as an unincorporated section of Lee County is that in the past we have not been notified or consulted on some critical issues such as the annexation of Matlacha, the Ceitus Barrier removal, the Chiquita lock removal and the MS4 - Stormwater Management Program.
"When Cape Coral removed the Ceitus Barrier, that barrier served as a retention area for the stormwater to filter through the mangroves slowly into Matlacha Pass," Wood said. "Now the water rushes into the pass destroying the natural habitat with water polluted with lawn chemicals and dog waste. The quality of the water in Matlacha Pass has deteriorated."
In December 2013 a lawsuit was filed against Cape Coral and the state Department of Environmental Protection seeking to enforce a 2008 agreement and consent order requiring the city of Cape Coral to replace the Ceitus Barrier and include either a boat lift or lock. The petitioners included Pine Island resident Phil Buchanan, the Greater Pine Island Civic Association and numerous other conservation groups.
"In the end the DEP decided not to force Cape Coral to replace the Ceitus Barrier and we withdrew the lawsuit," Wood said.
The Matlacha/Pine Island Fire Control District lawsuit has prepared and delivered a draft of an agreement that the Cape has 45 days to respond to it.
"We want to divide up the costs of fire services for the area that was annexed," Wood said. "We also want to stop further annexations for a number of years and also we want a say in how any future development would affect fire protection."
According to the press release for the meeting "In the future, any existing agreements and ordinances can be changed radically with each new election of County, State and City of Cape Coral officials."
"Right now, we have taxation without full representation," Wood said. "We are relying on elected officials outside our small area, who also have to answer to the larger electorate of Lee County, city of Cape Coral and the state of Florida. If there is a conflict with these larger areas' interests, we do not have enough voter power to preserve the character of our coastal rural community."
The islands' incorporated areas would be the same areas as the areas of the Greater Pine Island Fire Control District. The territory extends east to Burnt Store Road and beyond to include the Cape Royal Community as wells as St. James City, Bokeelia and Pineland.
The proposed government would include a municipal council of the districts of St. James City, Pineland, Bokeelia, Matlacha, and Cape Royal. The voting district boundaries would be set by population so that each district has the same approximate number of voters.
"These separate multiple communities are why I call the new municipality, "Villages of the Lee Islands," Wood said. "Our plan is to have equal representation for all those districts. All voters would vote for two 'at large' council members elected from anywhere in the municipal area. Voters would also elect a council member from the district where they live. This option gives all voters the selection of three council members out of the seven total."
The "Initial Financial Feasibility Study" summary indicated that there would be no increase in property taxes to run this small government and that the total tax revenues paid to a new municipality would stay the same as are paid now. Services currently provided by Lee County would remain the same.
The 24-page "Initial Financial Feasibility Study" that details these issues is available for viewing at GPICA.org. Just go to the website and click on ISSUES, and then STUDY 24p., and then page through the Study.
An analysis is being performed now on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the Incorporation of the Villages of the Lee Islands. After that has been successfully completed, public information town hall meetings will be held in all the village districts. Details will be discussed and modifications considered for broader approval. When those are completed, a poll will have to be completed of all the residents and registered voters in the municipal area as to the public's support of Incorporation.
"The GPICA is investigating incorporation because we feel we need to be part of the overall government, and not be controlled by outside sources," Wood said. "In the future, only our own self-ruled municipality can maintain and enhance our coastal rural community. Our goal is to increase property values, improve the safety of our residents, and preserve the character of Greater Pine Island."