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Thursday, 19 May 2016 10:36

Leaping Sturgeon Knocks Out Florida Man

An Florida man was injured last week by a jumping sturgeon on the Suwannee River.

Ronald Dick was in a fishing tournament just up river from Manatee Springs when a 4- to 5-foot sturgeon leapt out of the water and into the boat, striking the man, knocking him unconscious, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers.

Dick was taken to the Joe H. Anderson, Sr. Park and Boat Ramp and transported to the hospital where he was treated for non-life threatening injuries and released.

According to investigators, Dick and his son were traveling about 30 mph when the fish jumped out of the water, impacting the vessel’s windshield and operator.

“This is the first sturgeon incident for 2016,” said Maj. Andy Krause, commander for the FWC’s North Central Region in Lake City. “Boaters need to be aware that these fish are in the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers. We want people to enjoy the recreational opportunities on the rivers, but we also want people realize these fish do jump and can hurt you.”

During 2015, there were eight injuries and a fatality resulting from sturgeon strikes. There were no strikes reported in 2013 or 2014. Researchers attribute this to the high water levels in the river. Recently, the levels have been dropping and the sturgeon are jumping more frequently.

“Please don’t think this can’t happen to you, especially if the water levels continue to drop. If you are boating on the rivers during the summer months, there’s a good chance you could encounter a sturgeon jumping out of the water,” Krause said.

The FWC recommends going slow to reduce the risk of impact and to have more reaction time if a jumping sturgeon is encountered. All boaters are encouraged to wear their life jacket at all times while on the water and keep passengers off the bow of the boat.

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“We certainly don’t want to scare people off the river. This is a beautiful area that everyone should enjoy,” Krause said. “However, please be aware these fish are there and they do jump.”

These collisions aren’t attacks and the fish aren’t targeting boaters. They are simply doing what they have been doing for eons: jumping. Researchers have discovered sturgeon jump for two reasons: to fill their swim bladders to maintain neutral buoyancy and to communicate with other fish.

While it is possible for them to jump anywhere in the river, sturgeon in the Suwannee are more commonly observed jumping where they gather in “holding” areas. Major holding areas in the Suwannee occur above Jack\'s Sandbar; below Manatee Springs; between Fanning Spring and Usher Landing; below Old Town Trestle; below the conjunction of the Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers; near Rock Bluff; and below Anderson Springs. There are a number of less important holding areas as well.

Biologists estimate the annual population of sturgeon in the Suwannee River to be about 10,000, averaging 40 pounds. However a few can exceed 170 pounds. They can leap more than 7 feet out of the water. To add to the seriousness of being hit by one, the fish have five rows of armor-like scutes.

Adult fish spend eight to nine months each year in the river, spawning in May, and then return to the Gulf during the coolest months to feed.

State and federal laws protect sturgeon, just like bald eagles, panthers and sea turtles. Gulf sturgeon cannot be harvested.

Despite the fact that Lee County has been growing leaps and bounds, the small unincorporated community of San Carlos Island has only seen one major development in approximately the past 25 years. This may be about to change as two substantial projects are in the works that will significantly change the area. One – known as Ebb Tide has already been approved by Lee County zoning - and the other, Bay Harbour Marina Village will have its last public hearing before the Lee County Hearing Examiner on May 25. In anticipation of that meeting, The Sun Bay Paper decided to look into the Bay Harbour Marina Village project.

It started when one of our local readers-Margie Tirey stopped into our offices about a month ago. She was on her way to an earlier hearing on Bay Harbour Marina Village where testimony, public comment and evidence was being presented to persuade County officials to give final approval to Southern Comfort Storage, LLC, the parent company seeking to launch what some have called “the best thing ever to happen to San Carlos Island.” Others in the community however, spoke against the proposed marina, ships store, condominium high-rise, parking deck and boat storage build out.

All together construction, if approved, would allow for 113 units including 75 rental units, 38 units designated as workforce housing, 525 parking spaces, and dry storage for 286 boats with room for an additional 29 boats in wet slips.

The entire parcel to be developed encompasses 7.8 acres on Main Street less than a quarter mile from the Sky Bridge leading to Fort Myers Beach, one of Lee Counties most visited locations and long known for its traffic congestion during the peak tourist season months of mid-January through Easter. Long lines of cars are sometimes backed up to Summerlin Road and, often, traffic is at a standstill causing massive delays for those trying to get onto the Beach where – once they do arrive- often have difficulty finding a parking place. Those who support Bay Harbour Marina Village point to the 525 easily accessed parking deck as one solution to this problem.

“This is a great project,” said Jack Mayher, one of Southern Comfort’s principles and a spokesman for the company.

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“We have hired some of the best people in Lee County to work on Bay Harbour Marina Village to insure everything is done to the highest standards and consistent with preserving and enhancing the character and quality of life for the people of San Carlos Island,” he added.

It appears the company spared no expense to prepare and present the project to the public including hiring the respected firm of Maxwell, Hendry and Simmons to conduct an economic impact study. As part of their exhaustive study, they also concluded that the entire project – once completed - would add $50 million dollars of value to Lee County coffers bringing in approximately $800,000 a year just in property taxes based on the current assessment rate of 1.5%.

Then there are a myriad of other taxable events associated with the property including sales taxes, rental taxes, fuel taxes from the marina operations not to mention the possibility of any required impact fees. All together it is estimated that when completed Bay Harbour Marina Village will provide a positive cash flow of well over a million dollars annually to the people of Lee County.

There is also one added benefit associated with the project – “workforce housing” – a unique concept recently introduced into land planning lexicons to allow moderate-income housing for firefighters, teachers and others often required to live in the district where they work. This concept appears to be tailor-made for island communities where affordable housing is often at a steep premium. 38 of the residential condos at Bay Harbour Marina Village have been designated to fit this niche and will, according to Southern Comfort’s published material, “fill the need for those who find it difficult to find a place to live at a monthly rate they can afford.” According to Mayher, rents would be based on income bring the units within reasonable range for those who need it most.

“We want to stress these units are not low-income housing, they are workforce housing that serve the needs of a special subset of our community that has been recognized by the Florida Housing Corporation as essential for public service workers,” said Mayher

Once again, to incorporate this concept into the overall Bay Harbour Marina Village project, experts were hired and consulted, including Dr. David DePew, an engineer and master land planner with the well-respected firm of Morris DePew.

“Bay Harbour Marina Village is extremely well conceived and designed to enhance the quality of life on San Carlos Island; Jack and his investors have spared no expense to insure the development enhances not detracts from the community,” said DePew.

Not everyone is happy with Bay Harbour Marina Village and Bill and Joanne Semmer speak to the reasons they oppose the project as currently being presented for zoning approval.

“I support the marina and boat storage buildings but do not want to see the condos or parking garage built,” Joanne told us.

“In my opinion, Mr. Mayher and his other investors are seeking to add too much density to San Carlos Island and in doing so will detract from the working waterfront land uses currently allowed for the property they are developing,” she added. It should be noted that Ms. Semmer did testify in favor of the nearby Ebb Tide project.

Semmer has organized a small group of people to lobby against the project including the hiring of Lawyer Ralph Brooks to represent their opposition at the hearings.

Semmer’s group relies heavily on the wording of a Resolution, referred to as a Community Redevelopment Act (CRA) promulgated by the County Commissioners in 1978 saying density would not be increased on San Carlos Island and that the County would maintain “working waterfront” zoning for the land. According to Mayher, the CRA was rescinded in 1983 when the Lee Plan and Land Development Code became effective. His contention seems validated due to the fact that the County staff did not refer to the CRA when they recommended Bay Harbours’ request for a zoning change be approved.

Nick Ruland, the former owner of The Fishmonger Restaurant, points out that Bay Harbour Marina Village is on the opposite side of the street from where the majority of what remains of the “working waterfront” is still located. He points to the fact that “in respect to the fishing industry only two working waterfront businesses are still operating – Erickson and Jensen and Trico Shrimp Company.”

It seems critical to say that both of those businesses have sent letters in support of Bay Harbour Marina Village to every County Commissioner.

Joel Andrews writing for Erickson and Jensen said he “believed the Bay Harbour project as well as the Ebb Tide proposal will serve San Carlos Island positively.” He noted that the “Island has more empty buildings than prosperous businesses” saying that the “two projects would be the catalyst needed to revitalize this area and make San Carlos Island a Lee County destination.”

Dennis Henderson, owner of Trico Shrimp and a well-known operator on the island concurred saying “We see a need for this Bay Harbour Marina Village.”

The Channel Mark (a nearby restaurant) has changed names so often you can’t keep up. If they had parking they might have a chance. It would be great to have year round tenants to support the businesses and the businesses also need places for their employees to park. With seasonal traffic and construction it would be so helpful for the employees to live close to where they work! The need for affordable housing in a tourist destination is huge! The improvements and the clean-up that a new development would make to this island would be tremendous,” he elaborated in his statement.

‘Many of the businesses that used to be there are either closed or in the process of shrinking, there really is no reason to continue to stick to an idea whose time has passed,” said Ruland, who also has an interest in the development.

Jane Plummer, a local realtor for over 28 years agrees.

“The property cannot survive on the current zoning designation,” says Plummer, adding, “Without the change on zoning that Mr. Mayher is requesting, the property cannot generate sufficient income to pay for itself.”

Tirey, who lives in nearby Boardwalk Caper and owns overlooking property on nearby Oak Street also agreed and elaborated on why Bay Harbour Marina Village would be a welcome addition to San Carlos Island.

“Currently the property and those surrounding it are being used for storage of boats, cars, motorhomes some of which are ok and many that are derelict, it really is an eyesore to the community. I would be more than happy to build on my property if Bay Harbour Marina Village is approved because it would take a trashed out area and make it nice for everyone,” said Tirey at our offices last month

Plummer said the trashed out look that dominates much of the area is highly unappealing to visitors and residents.

“We picked up two bags of trash right on Main Street in just a couple of hours, way too may transients who just seem to treat the area as their own personal dump.”

While the dilapidated look of the thoroughfares and empty lots are a minor problem, a lack of affordable housing for workers is a far greater matter. There are currently only a few hundred annual rentals left on Fort Myers Beach and this dearth of affordable housing has caused big problems for business owners and residents who need service workers to make things run smoothly.

“What’s badly needed are annual rentals for the people who work in our schools, hotels, restaurants, fire departments and the tradespeople who repair our homes, air conditioners, service our pools and just generally do the everyday tasks that makes our community work,” said Plummer.

“The skyrocketing costs of rentals has made it almost impossible for people to live on or near the islands. They can’t afford to drive 30 minutes in heavy traffic every day to get to work,” she added.

Mayher and his investors have asked the County to approve his project for Central Urban zoning, a category that already exists in the land use code.

“Currently the near 8 acre parcel has numerous, incongruent zoning designations that for all practical purposes renders much of the property unusable for a large workable project. Unless these individual parcels are rezoned and combined into a designation like Central Urban, the land cannot be put to its highest and best use. Staff at Lee County recognized these facts and that is why they made a recommendation to approve the rezoning,” Mayher told the Sun Bay. Paper

When asked if they agreed with Mayher on this point, Joanne Semmer said she did not.

“I don’t think it should be allowed because San Carlos Island cannot support more density. Bay Harbour Marina Village is seeking greater density than other projects that have been approved on the Island like Ebb Tide where the developers were held to a one for one standard on density, she said.

A close look at the project she mentioned does not fully support her contention, since plans there already include a proposed 450 unit hotel and roughly 800 docks, density is already greater than the one for one taken from nearby mobile home communities that will be phased out once construction begins. That trade out provided 271 units but the hotel alone would far more than double that density. It would appear based on total density numbers that Bay Harbour Marina Village will actually have less density with far greater upland support than other projects already approved or operating under “grandfathered” standards that do not comply with the current land use code.

It is also noted that the project is on the harbor side of the island fronting the Federal Channel that is the primary reason for having a working waterfront approach to San Carlos Island. It is here that the Shrimp Fleet, fish houses, deep water boat launches and marine repair and service industries are located. Bay Harbour Marina Village is on the opposite side of Main Street and has few viable “waterfront” industries still operating. Many that did years ago have long since shut their doors and moved on giving the area a vacant, unused appearance. Most of the property simply serves as a storage area for Southern Comfort Storages’ current operations.

“There are over 20 businesses closed on San Carlos Boulevard that might thrive again if Bay Harbour Marina Village is allowed. With another 100 plus people living at the Village, businesses would have a customer base and with the parking deck, the Channel Mark and a few other businesses might finally make good because they’d have ample parking for their employees,” Plummer told us.

Another concern raised by the Semmers and their allies is increased traffic on an island already overtaxed by congestion.

“There are too many cars already using the existing roadway and besides if Bay Harbour Marina Village is built all the increased traffic it would generate could compromise our hurricane evacuation plan,” Joanne Semmer insisted.

While there have been traffic studies completed that refute this idea one little discussed aspect to the development that benefits everyone on San Carlos Island is the total redo of Main Street the main artery on the East side of San Carlos Island. This improved roadbed may actually aid in hurricane evacuation.

According to Mayher a complete upgrade to a class “A” road must be built by them as part of the overall project.

“The County will require us to redo the road all the way from Oak Street where we start to the connector at San Carlos Boulevard. If we do this portion and Ebb Tide does their section from Oak Street on the East down to their project at Parrot Key then the entire road will be more than sufficient for those coming to the properties,” he said.

“There really won’t be much greater traffic, if any, says Plummer since those who have storage units already in place drive on the road all the time and besides there are so pretty large users of the road already like the Key West Express and Salty Sam’s Marina and the mobile home parks already in place. In my opinion there will be less traffic actually on the road because Bay Harbour Marina Village is like a gated community only even more walkable,”, elaborated the Realtor

When the final hearing is held next Tuesday, Lee County officials will be faced with making a meaningful choice. There is no doubt that there are two sides to the issue and that both feel convinced that they have the best interests of San Carlos Island at heart.

How the decision falls is anyone’s guess but it is pretty clear to even a random observer that the area is sorely in need of revitalization. Large parcels of property are blighted and many buildings are vacant on both Main Street and San Carlos Blvd. which is the main thoroughfare leading to Fort Myers Beach one of the great economic engines for Lee County.

If approved the project will create jobs, provide rentals, substantially increase the property tax base and provide parking for over 500 cars. For many years Fort Myers Beach has been looking for a way to keep so many cars from going onto the Island during peak season. Bay Harbour Marina Village may also provide that ancillary benefit to its neighboring community.

On the other hand, the Semmer family believes the project is just too big for San Carlos Island. They say they want to protect the “working waterfront” that has long characterized this small but unique part of unincorporated part of Lee County. However, with both remaining seafood companies on record as supporting the project, this may be a non-starter with officials looking to bring jobs and substantial improvements to the entirety of the island community.

Considering the projected county budget shortfalls, lack of affordable working class housing in the area and the desirability of more parking and boat storage, Lee County would do well to consider Bay Harbour Marina Village carefully.

One thing is certain, change is inevitable and soon we will all know the extent of that transformation for the residents of San Carlos Island.

Carl Conley

For those interested in attending the hearing on Bay Harbour Marina Village will be held on May 25th at 9:00 O’clock at 1500 Monroe Street, Fort Myers, Florida.

Despite the fact that Lee County has been growing leaps and bounds, the small unincorporated community of San Carlos Island has only seen one major development in approximately the past 25 years. This may be about to change as two substantial projects are in the works that will significantly change the area. One – known as Ebb Tide has already been approved by Lee County zoning - and the other, Bay Harbour Marina Village will have its last public hearing before the Lee County Hearing Examiner on May 25. In anticipation of that meeting, The Sun Bay Paper decided to look into the Bay Harbour Marina Village project.

It started when one of our local readers-Margie Tirey stopped into our offices about a month ago. She was on her way to an earlier hearing on Bay Harbour Marina Village where testimony, public comment and evidence was being presented to persuade County officials to give final approval to Southern Comfort Storage, LLC, the parent company seeking to launch what some have called “the best thing ever to happen to San Carlos Island.” Others in the community however, spoke against the proposed marina, ships store, condominium high-rise, parking deck and boat storage build out.

All together construction, if approved, would allow for 113 units including 75 rental units, 38 units designated as workforce housing, 525 parking spaces, and dry storage for 286 boats with room for an additional 29 boats in wet slips.

The entire parcel to be developed encompasses 7.8 acres on Main Street less than a quarter mile from the Sky Bridge leading to Fort Myers Beach, one of Lee Counties most visited locations and long known for its traffic congestion during the peak tourist season months of mid-January through Easter. Long lines of cars are sometimes backed up to Summerlin Road and, often, traffic is at a standstill causing massive delays for those trying to get onto the Beach where – once they do arrive- often have difficulty finding a parking place. Those who support Bay Harbour Marina Village point to the 525 easily accessed parking deck as one solution to this problem.

“This is a great project,” said Jack Mayher, one of Southern Comfort’s principles and a spokesman for the company.

 

“We have hired some of the best people in Lee County to work on Bay Harbour Marina Village to insure everything is done to the highest standards and consistent with preserving and enhancing the character and quality of life for the people of San Carlos Island,” he added.

It appears the company spared no expense to prepare and present the project to the public including hiring the respected firm of Maxwell, Hendry and Simmons to conduct an economic impact study. As part of their exhaustive study, they also concluded that the entire project – once completed - would add $50 million dollars of value to Lee County coffers bringing in approximately $800,000 a year just in property taxes based on the current assessment rate of 1.5%.

Then there are a myriad of other taxable events associated with the property including sales taxes, rental taxes, fuel taxes from the marina operations not to mention the possibility of any required impact fees. All together it is estimated that when completed Bay Harbour Marina Village will provide a positive cash flow of well over a million dollars annually to the people of Lee County.

There is also one added benefit associated with the project – “workforce housing” – a unique concept recently introduced into land planning lexicons to allow moderate-income housing for firefighters, teachers and others often required to live in the district where they work. This concept appears to be tailor-made for island communities where affordable housing is often at a steep premium. 38 of the residential condos at Bay Harbour Marina Village have been designated to fit this niche and will, according to Southern Comfort’s published material, “fill the need for those who find it difficult to find a place to live at a monthly rate they can afford.” According to Mayher, rents would be based on income bring the units within reasonable range for those who need it most.

“We want to stress these units are not low-income housing, they are workforce housing that serve the needs of a special subset of our community that has been recognized by the Florida Housing Corporation as essential for public service workers,” said Mayher

Once again, to incorporate this concept into the overall Bay Harbour Marina Village project, experts were hired and consulted, including Dr. David DePew, an engineer and master land planner with the well-respected firm of Morris DePew.

“Bay Harbour Marina Village is extremely well conceived and designed to enhance the quality of life on San Carlos Island; Jack and his investors have spared no expense to insure the development enhances not detracts from the community,” said DePew.

Not everyone is happy with Bay Harbour Marina Village and Bill and Joanne Semmer speak to the reasons they oppose the project as currently being presented for zoning approval.

“I support the marina and boat storage buildings but do not want to see the condos or parking garage built,” Joanne told us.

“In my opinion, Mr. Mayher and his other investors are seeking to add too much density to San Carlos Island and in doing so will detract from the working waterfront land uses currently allowed for the property they are developing,” she added. It should be noted that Ms. Semmer did testify in favor of the nearby Ebb Tide project.

Semmer has organized a small group of people to lobby against the project including the hiring of Lawyer Ralph Brooks to represent their opposition at the hearings.

Semmer’s group relies heavily on the wording of a Resolution, referred to as a Community Redevelopment Act (CRA) promulgated by the County Commissioners in 1978 saying density would not be increased on San Carlos Island and that the County would maintain “working waterfront” zoning for the land. According to Mayher, the CRA was rescinded in 1983 when the Lee Plan and Land Development Code became effective. His contention seems validated due to the fact that the County staff did not refer to the CRA when they recommended Bay Harbours’ request for a zoning change be approved.

Nick Ruland, the former owner of The Fishmonger Restaurant, points out that Bay Harbour Marina Village is on the opposite side of the street from where the majority of what remains of the “working waterfront” is still located. He points to the fact that “in respect to the fishing industry only two working waterfront businesses are still operating – Erickson and Jensen and Trico Shrimp Company.”

It seems critical to say that both of those businesses have sent letters in support of Bay Harbour Marina Village to every County Commissioner.

Joel Andrews writing for Erickson and Jensen said he “believed the Bay Harbour project as well as the Ebb Tide proposal will serve San Carlos Island positively.” He noted that the “Island has more empty buildings than prosperous businesses” saying that the “two projects would be the catalyst needed to revitalize this area and make San Carlos Island a Lee County destination.”

Dennis Henderson, owner of Trico Shrimp and a well-known operator on the island concurred saying “We see a need for this Bay Harbour Marina Village.”

The Channel Mark (a nearby restaurant) has changed names so often you can’t keep up. If they had parking they might have a chance. It would be great to have year round tenants to support the businesses and the businesses also need places for their employees to park. With seasonal traffic and construction it would be so helpful for the employees to live close to where they work! The need for affordable housing in a tourist destination is huge! The improvements and the clean-up that a new development would make to this island would be tremendous,” he elaborated in his statement.

‘Many of the businesses that used to be there are either closed or in the process of shrinking, there really is no reason to continue to stick to an idea whose time has passed,” said Ruland, who also has an interest in the development.

Jane Plummer, a local realtor for over 28 years agrees.

“The property cannot survive on the current zoning designation,” says Plummer, adding, “Without the change on zoning that Mr. Mayher is requesting, the property cannot generate sufficient income to pay for itself.”

Tirey, who lives in nearby Boardwalk Caper and owns overlooking property on nearby Oak Street also agreed and elaborated on why Bay Harbour Marina Village would be a welcome addition to San Carlos Island.

“Currently the property and those surrounding it are being used for storage of boats, cars, motorhomes some of which are ok and many that are derelict, it really is an eyesore to the community. I would be more than happy to build on my property if Bay Harbour Marina Village is approved because it would take a trashed out area and make it nice for everyone,” said Tirey at our offices last month

Plummer said the trashed out look that dominates much of the area is highly unappealing to visitors and residents.

“We picked up two bags of trash right on Main Street in just a couple of hours, way too may transients who just seem to treat the area as their own personal dump.”

While the dilapidated look of the thoroughfares and empty lots are a minor problem, a lack of affordable housing for workers is a far greater matter. There are currently only a few hundred annual rentals left on Fort Myers Beach and this dearth of affordable housing has caused big problems for business owners and residents who need service workers to make things run smoothly.

“What’s badly needed are annual rentals for the people who work in our schools, hotels, restaurants, fire departments and the tradespeople who repair our homes, air conditioners, service our pools and just generally do the everyday tasks that makes our community work,” said Plummer.

“The skyrocketing costs of rentals has made it almost impossible for people to live on or near the islands. They can’t afford to drive 30 minutes in heavy traffic every day to get to work,” she added.

Mayher and his investors have asked the County to approve his project for Central Urban zoning, a category that already exists in the land use code.

“Currently the near 8 acre parcel has numerous, incongruent zoning designations that for all practical purposes renders much of the property unusable for a large workable project. Unless these individual parcels are rezoned and combined into a designation like Central Urban, the land cannot be put to its highest and best use. Staff at Lee County recognized these facts and that is why they made a recommendation to approve the rezoning,” Mayher told the Sun Bay. Paper

When asked if they agreed with Mayher on this point, Joanne Semmer said she did not.

“I don’t think it should be allowed because San Carlos Island cannot support more density. Bay Harbour Marina Village is seeking greater density than other projects that have been approved on the Island like Ebb Tide where the developers were held to a one for one standard on density, she said.

A close look at the project she mentioned does not fully support her contention, since plans there already include a proposed 450 unit hotel and roughly 800 docks, density is already greater than the one for one taken from nearby mobile home communities that will be phased out once construction begins. That trade out provided 271 units but the hotel alone would far more than double that density. It would appear based on total density numbers that Bay Harbour Marina Village will actually have less density with far greater upland support than other projects already approved or operating under “grandfathered” standards that do not comply with the current land use code.

It is also noted that the project is on the harbor side of the island fronting the Federal Channel that is the primary reason for having a working waterfront approach to San Carlos Island. It is here that the Shrimp Fleet, fish houses, deep water boat launches and marine repair and service industries are located. Bay Harbour Marina Village is on the opposite side of Main Street and has few viable “waterfront” industries still operating. Many that did years ago have long since shut their doors and moved on giving the area a vacant, unused appearance. Most of the property simply serves as a storage area for Southern Comfort Storages’ current operations.

“There are over 20 businesses closed on San Carlos Boulevard that might thrive again if Bay Harbour Marina Village is allowed. With another 100 plus people living at the Village, businesses would have a customer base and with the parking deck, the Channel Mark and a few other businesses might finally make good because they’d have ample parking for their employees,” Plummer told us.

Another concern raised by the Semmers and their allies is increased traffic on an island already overtaxed by congestion.

“There are too many cars already using the existing roadway and besides if Bay Harbour Marina Village is built all the increased traffic it would generate could compromise our hurricane evacuation plan,” Joanne Semmer insisted.

While there have been traffic studies completed that refute this idea one little discussed aspect to the development that benefits everyone on San Carlos Island is the total redo of Main Street the main artery on the East side of San Carlos Island. This improved roadbed may actually aid in hurricane evacuation.

According to Mayher a complete upgrade to a class “A” road must be built by them as part of the overall project.

“The County will require us to redo the road all the way from Oak Street where we start to the connector at San Carlos Boulevard. If we do this portion and Ebb Tide does their section from Oak Street on the East down to their project at Parrot Key then the entire road will be more than sufficient for those coming to the properties,” he said.

“There really won’t be much greater traffic, if any, says Plummer since those who have storage units already in place drive on the road all the time and besides there are so pretty large users of the road already like the Key West Express and Salty Sam’s Marina and the mobile home parks already in place. In my opinion there will be less traffic actually on the road because Bay Harbour Marina Village is like a gated community only even more walkable,”, elaborated the Realtor

When the final hearing is held next Tuesday, Lee County officials will be faced with making a meaningful choice. There is no doubt that there are two sides to the issue and that both feel convinced that they have the best interests of San Carlos Island at heart.

How the decision falls is anyone’s guess but it is pretty clear to even a random observer that the area is sorely in need of revitalization. Large parcels of property are blighted and many buildings are vacant on both Main Street and San Carlos Blvd. which is the main thoroughfare leading to Fort Myers Beach one of the great economic engines for Lee County.

If approved the project will create jobs, provide rentals, substantially increase the property tax base and provide parking for over 500 cars. For many years Fort Myers Beach has been looking for a way to keep so many cars from going onto the Island during peak season. Bay Harbour Marina Village may also provide that ancillary benefit to its neighboring community.

On the other hand, the Semmer family believes the project is just too big for San Carlos Island. They say they want to protect the “working waterfront” that has long characterized this small but unique part of unincorporated part of Lee County. However, with both remaining seafood companies on record as supporting the project, this may be a non-starter with officials looking to bring jobs and substantial improvements to the entirety of the island community.

Considering the projected county budget shortfalls, lack of affordable working class housing in the area and the desirability of more parking and boat storage, Lee County would do well to consider Bay Harbour Marina Village carefully.

One thing is certain, change is inevitable and soon we will all know the extent of that transformation for the residents of San Carlos Island.

Carl Conley

For those interested in attending the hearing on Bay Harbour Marina Village will be held on May 25th at 9:00 O’clock at 1500 Monroe Street, Fort Myers, Florida.

According to National Geographic, environmental warriors from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) recently took aim at poachers preying upon the totoaba population in the Gulf of California by using night-vision drones equipped with cameras to catch the poachers in the act.
"Using our night vision drone, Sea Shepherd was able to capture never before seen footage of totoaba poachers operating under the cover of darkness," Roy Sasano, said drone pilot and SSCS executive officer in a statement released this month.
"Now the poachers know they cannot act with impunity," added Sasano.

The poachers had been using huge custom made gillnets to take endangered totoabas — according to National Geographic. In the process, they were also capturing small porpoises named vaquitas, sharks, whales and other aquatic species as "incidental catches." Totoabas are only found in the Gulf of California and, according to National Public Radio can grow to "the size of a football player." They sought for their swim bladders and used by Chinese marketers for soup-making and medicinal purposes. According to the April statement issued by SSCS, its vessel — M/Y Farley Mowat — "hid in the darkness looking for illegal activity" and dispatched Predator drones as soon as it spotted the poachers. They immediately dropped their gillnets and fled the area but not before the SSCS was had transmitted their coordinates to the Mexican Navy.
Mexico's government gave the SSCS "permission to police gillnets in the Gulf of California" in January 2016, the statement said. It has since removed 40 of the devices, "saving untold numbers of vaquita, totoaba, whales, sharks, dolphins, and other marine wildlife."

The Sun Bay Paper is committed to helping the SSCS and once conducted a live interview by satellite phone uplink while Captain Paul Watson and others SSCS volunteers were under fire by Japanese whalers in the Antarctic. Sun Bay Publisher Carl Conley conducted the interview and has continued to keep abreast of SSCS activities. To learn more, visit its website: www.seashepherdglobal.org

Almost 100 million in drug money converted to gold by fake Florida company.
Laundering scheme used forged metal invoices, court files show
As banks beef up compliance, criminals hide money in trade

Mexican drug cartels operating in the U.S. have a problem: getting the profits home. Sometimes they try sending cash through banks, but that’s grown difficult as the government forces financial institutions to beef up anti-money-laundering efforts. So at least one international organization moved its money on a river of molten gold.
The Sinaloa cartel, once led by serial prison escapee Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, used some of its proceeds from selling drugs in the U.S. to buy gold in pawn shops, according to ¬allegations in court records. It shipped more than $98 million in gold to a Florida company that had it melted down and sold for cash. Then the cartel used fake invoices to justify sending the proceeds to a company in Mexico.
Court documents, plus interviews with people familiar with the alleged scheme, paint an unusually detailed picture of how gold can be used to hide an illicit money transfer.
“If I had a lot of money to launder, I would choose gold,” says John Cassara, a former U.S. Treasury special agent and author of books on money laundering. “There really isn’t anything else like it out there.” Once it’s melted down, the commodity’s origins are difficult to trace. It can quickly be converted to cash. Many of the companies that deal in gold aren’t held to the same compliance standards as banks.
Part of the suspected money laundering operation is laid out in documents from a federal court case in Chicago. People including alleged Sinaloa member Carlos Parra-Pedroza, who’s among those facing charges, are accused of arranging for couriers to collect drug proceeds and then buy up gold bars and scrap pieces from jewelry stores and businesses in the Chicago area.
Parra-Pedroza has pleaded not guilty, and his attorney didn’t respond to requests for comment. According to the Chicago documents, members of the group shipped the gold via FedEx to an unnamed company in Florida to be melted down for cash.

Boxes of Gold


Between 2011 and 2014, the Chicago complaint says, the company allegedly took in hundreds of boxes sent from the cartel, which used aliases such as Chicago Gold or Shopping Silver. The Florida company collected a commission of 1 percent, then forwarded the remaining money to a company in Mexico owned by Parra-Pedroza and called De Mexico British Metal, court documents allege. The records also say that falsified paperwork made it look as though De Mexico British Metal sold the gold to the unnamed Florida company, helping to make the transactions appear legitimate.
That unnamed company, say two people familiar with the matter, was Natalie Jewelry, which was the subject of a separate case in federal court in Florida. The trail that led U.S. authorities to the company began with a modest question, says one of the people who knows the case.
Lou Bock, a retired agent for the Department of Homeland Security, says U.S. Customs records posed a conundrum: “There’s just way too much gold going through Miami,” he says. He prodded his former agency to look into the uptick, which was suspicious, he believed, because virtually no jewelry is made in Miami.
In January 2014, based on Customs reports showing discrepancies between the volume and value of gold processed by the company, federal agents converged on Natalie Jewelry’s office in an industrial park just north of Miami. They seized cash and ¬hundreds of kilograms of gold and silver. The agents had uncovered a tax-¬evasion scheme, according to two of the sources. Natalie Jewelry’s records revealed money-¬laundering links to drug rings including the Sinaloa cartel, the people say.

Guilty Pleas


Natalie Jewelry owners Jed and Natalie Ladin had set up an office for their company in Mexico City, court documents in the Florida case show. Natalie Jewelry would actually sell the gold it received to other companies, known as refineries. Refiners collect their own commission when they melt down scrap gold, then send proceeds back to the gold trader.
The Ladins pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money on behalf of a separate Mexican drug dealer. They haven’t been charged with laundering funds for the Sinaloa cartel. Jed, who was sentenced to three years in prison, declined to be interviewed. Natalie was sentenced to time served and supervised release; she also declined an interview request, through her lawyer.
There was a bizarre incident during the Miami bust. With cars flashing blue lights and a SWAT team in front of the warehouse, a black sedan pulled up. A man got out, popped the trunk, pulled out a briefcase, and walked toward Natalie Jewelry’s door, a person who was at the scene says.
“I just need to drop off this gold and get a receipt,” the man was heard to say. “I need a receipt.” The man walked into the Natalie Jewelry office and dropped off the briefcase, which was full of gold. If he was a cartel courier, his insistence on documentation may be understandable: On surreptitious recordings, Parra-Pedroza described one courier who admitted losing money, after claiming it was seized by authorities. “I think they even cut his fingers off,” he said.
The man in Florida left with his receipt.

Members of the political party seen by most Germans as nationalist known as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) are supporting a platform for the next election cycle that emphasizes Islam is incompatible with the Nations’ constitution.
Party Delegates also called for a ban on mosque minarets and the controversial burqa at the party's conference last Sunday

The AfD was born three years ago and has found wide traction among German voters appalled by Europe's refugee crisis where more than a million people, mostly Muslim, were allowed into the country over the past year.
Citing an increase in crime committed by so-called asylum seekers, a greater terrorism threat due to infiltration of refugee groups by ISIS and other militant Islamists and a failure to integrate into European society, the AfD has seen a marked increase in support from everyday Germans.
Despite this increase in popularity, to date the Party has no MPs in the federal parliament in Berlin but has seen members elected to half of Germany's 16 regional state assemblies.
Opinion polls have given the AfD a support level of 14 percent, presenting a serious challenge to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and other established parties leading up to federal elections in 2017. There have been accusations that mainstream media in Europe and the U.S. has minimized the popularity of AfD marginalizing its appeal by constant references to the Party as “far-right,” or “fascist,” in an attempt to play on guilt over Germany’s Nazi past.
Calling the AfD a ‘fringe movement” has also prompted most mainstream parties to rule out any coalition or cooperation with the AfD.
“The government, under Angela Merkel, has promoted this huge influx of Muslims who have no intention of assimilating into German culture; they are here to take our social benefits and for the most part they maintain separate enclaves in our cities and towns and have very little respect for our customs and mores,” said Hans Weibbe a political observer in Dresden who has chronicled the rise in nationalism since the refugee crisis began.
“Muslims also use symbols of their religion to foster this separation,” he added.
This has not escaped Party attention. At a clamorous debate on the second day of a party congress, many of the 2,000 members cheered calls from the podium for stricter measures against "Islamic symbols of power" and jeered at a plea for dialogue with Germany's Muslims.
"Islam is foreign to us and for that reason it cannot invoke the principle of religious freedom to the same degree as Christianity," said Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, an AfD politician from Saxony-Anhalt, to thunderous applause.

For her part, Chancellor Merkel refutes the call to reject Muslims, saying that freedom of religion is a right guaranteed by Germany's constitution. She has also claimed on numerous occasions that Islam belongs to Germany a claim highly contested by an increasing number of her constituents many of whom say they can no longer support her – that she is selling out the country.
Just last year, the head of the German Police Union said that Merkel was “wrong and that her policies of admitting so many un-vetted refugees was causing a rise in street crime and was greatly increasing security risks and the likelihood of terrorist attacks.”.
The share break between the far left, who supports Muslim immigration and the nationalists saw roughly 2,000 left-wing demonstrators clash with police last Saturday as they tried to break up the first full AfD conference before it main speakers appeared on Sunday.
The clash became violent as police detained 500 people and 10 law enforcement officers received light injuries, a police spokesman said.
The AfD has adopted a manifesto and one of its chapters is entitled "Islam is not a part of Germany".
According to the newspaper Das Spiegel, “The manifesto calls for a ban on minarets, the towers on Islamic mosques symbolic for the where the call to Muslim prayers are made. It also wants to ban the burqa, the total body cover up worn by many conservative Muslim women.
Germany is currently home to nearly four million Muslims, about five percent of the total population. While Muslims have long been a part of German society most in the past came from Turkey and were seen as more assimilating compared to the recent influx coming from more religiously militant areas of the Middle East.
In addition, most of the longer established Muslim Turkish community in Germany came to find work, but those who have arrived over the past year have mostly been fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been well-documented cases showing some of those arriving as “refugees” used fraudulent passports and some had links to terrorist organizations.
Just last month the head of Germany's Central Council of Muslims (GCCM) compared the AfD's attitude towards his community with that of Adolf Hitler's Nazis towards the Jews.
“The Muslim community continues to try and exploit Germanys’ national angst over its Nazi past to lessen resistance to more immigration, but the people are waking up to the fact that one has nothing to do with the other. German has been so prosperous and culturally rich precisely for the attributes the Muslim community rejects and if Germans don’t recognize this we risk losing our country,” said Tillschneider

The use of airplanes to spray anti-mosquito pesticides may increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder and developmental delays among children, finds new research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting in Baltimore.
Pediatric researchers with Pennsylvania State University’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York presented their findings to their colleagues in a poster session at the Baltimore Convention Center on April 30.
For this study, the scientists identified a swampy region in central New York State where health officials use airplanes to spray pyrethroid pesticides each summer.

The pesticides target mosquitos that carry the eastern equine encephalitis virus, which can cause swelling of the brain and spinal cord.
Each summer, to combat mosquito-borne encephalitis in the Cicero Swamp region, the New York Department of Health uses airplanes to apply pyrethroid pesticides.
In contrast, surrounding areas are exposed to standard methods of pesticide application, such as controlled droplet application by commercial applicators.
The pesticide that was used for the aerial spraying is Duet. This pesticide is registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Division of Environmental Conservation for this use.
Publicly available mandated reporting data from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation were used to quantify pesticide exposure among zip codes.
The 2013 American Community Survey was used to quantify demographic data. Data from the eight zip codes exposed to yearly aerial pyrethroid pesticides were compared with 16 control zip codes.
The researchers found that children living in ZIP codes in which aerial pesticide spraying has taken place each summer since 2003 were 25 percent more likely to have an autism diagnosis or documented developmental delay compared to those in ZIP codes with other methods of pesticide distribution, such as manually spreading granules or using hoses or controlled droplet applicators.
“Other studies have already shown that pesticide exposure might increase a child’s risk for autism spectrum disorder or developmental delay,” said lead investigator Steven Hicks, MD, PhD. “Our findings show that the way pesticides are distributed may change that risk.”
“Preventing mosquito-borne encephalitis is an important task for public health departments,” said Hicks. “Communities that have pesticide programs to help control the mosquito population might consider ways to reduce child pesticide exposure, including alternative application methods.”

Autistic Children

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Group of autistic young people (Photo by heplingting)

Children with autism spectrum disorder often have these characteristics, according to the National Institutes of Health:
• Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others
• Repetitive behaviors and limited interests or activities
• Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially
Symptoms are typically recognized in the first two years of life.
In the United States, autism spectrum disorder is estimated to occur at one in 68 births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency.
Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability. Prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 (1 in 150) to 2010 (1 in 68). Prevalence has increased by six to 15 percent each year from 2002 to 2010.
Today, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder, and autism services cost U.S. citizens $236-262 billion every year.

It has long been the contention of those who want to stop illegal immigration and secure the nation’s southern border against unlawful entry that illegals sponge off the system diminishing prosperity for citizens. This viewpoint is amplified in Florida where, according to anAmerican Community Survey: “Nearly 3.7 million Florida residents in 2013—almost one in five people in the state—were born abroad. Immigration was a major factor in the state’s rapid population growth in the 1980s, placing Florida among the top 10 states with the fastest-growing immigrant populations. Even today, Florida continues to attract immigrants: from 2000 to 2013, Florida’s immigrant population grew by just under 39 percent. By contrast, in California and New York, the growth rate was just 15 and 12 percent, respectively.” Controlling welfare costs is important to taxpayers in the Sunshine State and there is now conclusive evidence that they have
been right to be concerned. Households of illegal immigrants have been shown to average approximately $1,000 more annually in federal welfare benefits than households of non-immigrant recipients. According to the immigration control advocacy group, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which analyzed federal cost data from 2012, welfare payouts to illegal immigrant households averaged $5,692 yearly, contrasted with an average $4,431 welfare payout to non-immigrant households that received benefits. The CIS concluded that
while illegal immigrants are barred from directly receiving welfare, they still wind up obtaining it through their U.S.-born children. When all immigrant-headed households both legal and illegalwere considered, it was found they receivedan average of $6,241 in welfare. That was 41 percent more than the $4,431 received by a nonimmigrant household on welfare, according to the findings. The total cost of welfare benefits to households headed by immigrants was over $103 billion and over 51 percent, receives some type of welfare compared with only 30 percent of households
headed by U.S. citizens, the analysis showed. Further supporting the need to secure the southern U.S. border was the fact that immigrants who received the most in welfare benefits come from Mexico and Central America. In 2012, those households collected an average of $8,251 yearly which was a whopping 86 percent higher than the benefits used by non-immigrant households, the study showed. When broken down into categories, it was also learned that the average immigrant household collects 33 percent more cash benefits from welfare, 57 percent more food assistance, and 44 percent more in Medicaid dollars than the average non-immigrant household collecting those benefits. Housing costs were found to be about equal for both groups “While it is important for Americans to understand the rate of welfare use among immigrants, expressing that use in dollar terms offers a more tangible metric that is tied to current debates over fiscal policy. With the nation facing a long-term budgetary deficit, this study helps illuminate immigration's impact on the problem,” said Jason Richwine who authored the report.

Fort Myers Beach is gearing up as the community rallies to keep the fireworks on the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve. The Lani Kai Island Resort is aiming to raise funds for the event with a Silent Auction and Luau Beach Party on May 15th that will mark the start of an annual fundraiser and beach party for the local community.

The Luau Beach Party kicks off at 12PM on Lani Kai’s beachfront with a Luau theme complete with Luau dance lessons, beach games for prizes and raffles throughout the day. A Luau wouldn’t be complete without Luau dancers. The Florida Everbabes, Florida Tarpon Reel Girls and Hooters girls have all volunteered to help teach the beach traditional islander dance styles. The Florida Tarpon Reel Girls and Everbabes are the cheerleaders responsible for half time shows and dance entertainment at sporting events across the country and have all volunteered to be present throughout the Luau and Silent Auction events.

“As a Reel Girl for the Tarpon Football Team, I am very excited to represent my local Home Town as a volunteer for the Lani Kai Resort Firework Fundraiser this Sunday May 15th.” Michelle Vieth responded when asked about the Luau Beach Party and Silent Auction. “I am looking forward to taking Pictures with all participants on the beach, as well as performing our Half Time Dance! I feel honored to a part this Special Event, and cannot wait to see how much money will be raised!”

The Fireworks Fundraiser Silent Auction runs from 2PM-6PM and includes dozens of donations to bid on including boat rentals, resort accommodations, fun items such as a giant wheel barrel of assorted alcohol and rare items like the double set of Red Bull Acoustic Guitars and a Budweiser branded beach cruiser. Silent Auctions are popular due to their ability to attract hundreds of people as bidders who aim to save big on lavish prizes. While many of these gifts and packages will be available to bidders with potentially huge discounts, some of the items at the Silent Auction are so rare they are not available for sale at any store online or offline.

“Out of all the Silent Auctions I have managed and assisted with, I have never witnessed such unique gifts being donated. The Red Bull guitars, Budweiser Beach Cruiser and other gifts like a full grill with grilling utensils are perfect for our Luau themed party and Silent Auction,” said Michael Ensor, Marketing Director for the Lani Kai..

“The business community coming together in Lee/Collier County is one of the most inspiring projects I have been a part of and I look forward to hosting a successful Auction and Luau Party for all," he added.

If going to a Silent Auction on the beach, participating in a great cause while winning some great prizes is your gig, then don’t miss this event! The first 100 bidders to browse the silent auction options will receive Swag Bags loaded with Free Drink Coupons, discount cards, and other gifts from dozens of businesses in Lee County. A complimentary glass of champagne will be provided to all that sign into the auction. Hors d'oeuvre will be passed out while bidders browse the assorted packages and cocktail service will be available as well.

Once bidders make their way through the Auction and collect their swag bags, they will then be invited to our Auction Cocktail Party where some of Fort Myers Beach’s famous drink cocktails will be on special for bidders only. To top off the Silent Auction, a pig roast will be held and available for tasting at the Auction Cocktail Party.

Although the City of Fort Myers Beach will no longer fund the fireworks, Lani Kai has taken a position along with other beach residents and business owners to ensure that the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve Fireworks are here to stay! Aloha, we hope to see you there!

The National Park Service has decided to allow a Texas company to explore for oil and gas in the Big Cypress National Preserve, one of SW Florida’s most treasured outdoor areas...
Late last week, officials from the Park Service said that after a 20-month environmental review they concluded there would be no significant impact to allowing Burnett Oil Company to conduct a 110 square mile survey in the locally popular national preserve.
To complete the survey, Burnett says it will use sound waves from “sonic vibrators” mounted on trucks to create a three-dimensional map of potential oil and gas reserves.
The Park Service received a lot of feedback opposing the plan from those who feel it opens up the sensitive biosphere to ultimate drilling. In response, the Service said permission to conduct a survey is not tantamount to exploiting resources that might be found. They further said that even If Burnett Oil does “find energy resources it desires to pursue”, the company would then be required to submit a new plan of operations, requiring another environmental review.
Critics maintain that it is insincere to allow exploration if there is never any intent to drill in the Preserve and that because the land is home to flora and fauna unique to South Florida, it should never be exploited for resources. There are also those who point out that the Preserve is a natural watershed acting as a groundwater purifier and filter for southwest Florida’s aquifers and considering the current level of water woes facing SW Florida maintaining the land for recreational and public water sourcing would be the best management practice.
The Preserve has come under fire before for allowing recreational usages that damage the lands’ capacity to regenerate. In 1999, the Park Service noted that increased off road vehicle usage (ORV) was having a negative impact on the preserve. That prompted the National Park Service in 2001 to “proactively manage ORV recreation and to reduce 400 miles (640 km) of primary trails within the preserve, despite persistent calls for more from hunters and ORV enthusiasts.

OIL Map of Big Cypress Preserve

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“ORV use in Big Cypress National Preserve (BICY) has impacted wildlife populations and habitats through modifications to water flow patterns (direction and velocity) and water quality, soil displacement and compaction, direct vegetation damage, disturbance to foraging individuals, and, ultimately, overall suitability of habitats for wildlife," concluded officials with the Park Service based on a 2001 study conducted by the United States Geological Survey,
Based on these conclusions, environmental groups opposed the announcement by park officials in 2006 that it would conduct a new study to determine whether the recreational benefit of increasing the number of trails would be worth the risk of additional damage to the ecosystem.

OIL An Egret in the Big Cypress National Preserve 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to Wikipedia and the Park Service website, “the preserve is considered the most biologically diverse region of the terrestrial Everglade. While dominated by a wet cypress forest, it is host to an array of flora and fauna, including mangroves, orchids, alligators, venomous snakes like the cottonmouth and eastern diamondback rattlesnake, a variety of birds, and the critically endangered Florida panther, along with the more common Florida black bear. The preserve is also home to nine federally listed endangered species including the West Indian manatee, the eastern indigo snake and the Florida Sandhill Crane
The preserve located in South Florida and is a popular destination for both Lee and Collier county tourists and locals. It is ideally situated for a leisurely day trip from either Fort Myers or Naples.

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