Greater Pine Island Civic Association
Minutes December 7th, 2021
Board Members Present: Helen Fox, Nadine Slimak, Debbie Memoli, Mike Sweeney, Shari Perkins, Deborah Swisher-Hicks, Connie D’Alessio.
Due to social distancing needs, the meeting was held on Zoom.
Board President Helen Fox began the meeting by welcoming new board members Connie D’Alessio and Cindy Bear to the Board. The minutes from October 13th, 2021 were reviewed. Motion to approve by Shari Perkins and seconded by Connie D’Alessio.
Treasury Report, submitted by Board Treasurer Mike Sweeney:
In September, 2021 we had $3612.34 in the checking account, $16,761.30 in the money market account and $76,347.61 in a certificate of deposit. October money in: $680.00 for membership dues. Motion to approve the report by Deb Memoli and 2nd by Shari Perkins.
Multi-Use Path Report
Mike Sweeney reported from the Multi-Use Path Committee: The County is exploring a connection between Veterans Parkway and Stringfellow Rd. This path, to be shared by pedestrians and cyclists, is projected to be 8-10’ wide and would probably be constructed on the North side of Pine Island Rd. The committee was also asked to come up with possible ways to alleviate traffic backups, since the path through Matlacha may exacerbate the bottleneck there. Mike has already sent in his ideas. There will be a public workshop in the spring of 2022 to gather resident input.
View the Meeting Opening, Mixed-Use Path Summary and Treasurer’s Report
Guest Speaker: Pamela Keys: Director of Lee County General Utilities
In the presentation and discussion that followed, the following points were raised:
• Pam Keyes is leading a county-wide septic conversion program that is partnered with the Lee County Natural Resources Dept. They are in the process of doing a county-side wastewater master plan. Initially, they did a study of North Ft. Myers, which they knew was polluted; they have since expanded it to go county-wide. The preliminary results show that poor water quality is indeed linked to wastewater. The complete results of this study should be ready in a couple of months.
• There are 9 package plants on Pine Island, and 800 connections to the wastewater treatment plant. There are 5000 estimated septic tanks on the island. Some are 20 or 30 years old and haven’t been properly maintained. In addition, many systems do not meet the 4-ft separation requirement between the water table and the surface that is needed to protect ground water from wastewater (none of the islands actually meet the 4-ft criterion). Florida’s water table is quite high, and sea level rise is making this more of a problem.
• The County’s initial study found that septic tanks within a quarter mile of water bodies have the most impact on water quality. Areas within the County’s BMAP (Basin Management Action Plan) are their highest priority for septic conversion. The County knows that the islands are contributing to poor water quality, but none of them are included within the BMAP boundaries. That doesn’t mean PI can’t be a priority. It’s just that being within the BMAP boundaries helps. They (LCU and LDNR) will be prioritizing their areas of focus within the next few months. At that point they will identify grants and other funding sources to support septic conversions in those areas. They will present their final plan to the BOCC for review and for policy direction.
• Captiva is working on a study to do their own central sewer system. To get it going, community buy-in was critical. The county is currently looking for grant funding to help Captiva with their project. Currently, there are no appropriate funds for other studies until the Master Plan is completed. Meanwhile, neighborhoods on PI and elsewhere could fund their own small systems (package plants) through the MST/BU Program. (However, it’s unclear whether these small improvements will be negated in the future when the whole island will presumably be mandated to convert to a sewer system – see below).
• Ms. Keyes suggested that the GPICA do community outreach and a straw poll on PI to demonstrate that we have an interest in septic conversion. If PI is really interested in converting the whole island, and understands all the costs and benefits, they also need to show community buy-in. The County will be doing education and outreach in the future, but we could start ours sooner.
• Currently, only 19% of PI’s Wastewater Treatment Plant capacity is being used. But the facility would have to be able to handle 1.5 million gallons per day to convert the whole island, about 3x as much as it can currently handle. If the facility is upgraded to do advanced treatment, it would cost $40 million more. So when/if we do eventually get a sewer system for the whole island, we’d have to upgrade the sewer line, the plant capacity and the treatment of wastewater. The cost per property would be between $10,000 and $30,000 per property. Since 2020, the law requires the county to connect septic to sewer within 20 years, regardless of the cost to the consumer. This is the first time the County has been required to put a plan together. After we prioritize neighborhoods, we’ll look for funding sources to help with the required conversions. However, there will always be rural areas that can’t be connected to sewer systems.
• There are 5 WTP’s in the county, and only one of them is an advanced system (an “advanced” system is one that gets rid of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus as well as bacteria and viruses). Repair to an individual septic tank is now around $13,000, while to replace it is up to $30,000. Few homeowners and small businesses on PI can afford this. But it doesn’t look like conversion to sewer would be any more expensive, especially if grants were found.
• While yearly pumping out of all septic tanks would improve water quality, there is currently no program to enforce this. Over ten years ago a proposal to mandate yearly inspections/pump outs was approved but never funded by the County.
• The GPICA would like the data collected by the GPICA septic to sewer task force to be incorporated into the County’s study. We would like to impress upon Commissioners that we are the largest island in the County, that there are many studies that show that our waters are impaired, and therefore, we would like to get to the head of the line for the County’s study.
View the Meeting Recording
GPICA’s January 4th meeting will be at the Methodist Church, 5701 Pine Island Rd. at 6:30pm. This meeting will be live-streamed on our Facebook site. The meeting will be a public information session focused on plans by the Conservation Foundation for the land across from Flamingo Bay in St James City.
In February we hope to be back to meeting in person at the Elks Lodge and will be voting on new board members. If anyone would like to become a board member, please contact us; we still have openings.
Without objection, the meeting adjourned at 8:01pm
Minutes respectfully submitted by Debbie Memoli and Helen Fox