“It amazes me that they (town council) are willing to spend millions of dollars on three projects but they don’t care about the lighting. They keep pushing it to another consultant. They don’t have their priorities.” Public Safety Committee Member Heidi Jungwirth
The Fort Myers Beach Town Council has been working on the Estero Boulevard lighting issue since at least 2013. It is an issue former council member Bruce Butcher took the lead on and was hoping he could pull across the finish line before he left office. For sure, Butcher would be disappointed with where this issue stands today, nearly a year after he moved on from public life.
As the council dragged its feet, looking for more options and second opinions, the issue seemed to get pushed onto the back-burner, hardly even being mentioned at council meetings. Today, the solution to the lighting situation on Estero Boulevard is nowhere near the finish line. In fact, it hasn’t even left the starting line.
In case you were unaware, TEAM Engineering out of Orlando completed an extensive study, commissioned by The Lee County Metropolitan Planning Organization for Fort Myers Beach (READ IT HERE).
The firm concluded the lighting situation on Estero Boulevard, as it still stands today, is confusing to drivers, who would be unable to make adjustments or react properly on the road at night. In some places lights were 100 feet apart, in other areas, 1,000 feet apart. The report included the following Lee County Data: ” Between 2013 and 2016 there were 378 accidents on Estero Boulevard, including 15 pedestrian-related, 22 on bikes and 2 fatalities.” The firm recommended standardizing the situation by modifying 113 existing light fixtures and adding 87 supplemental ones.
However, if LED lights were used, the firm concluded the town would need between 400 and 500 light fixtures.
Then, in a supplement to the report, the firm made contact with FPL to get their option for turtle friendly lights. FPL said their only turtle-friendly option would require a total of 688 poles, more wiring and transformers, at cost $7.74 million.
That number seemed to put the issue into neutral and the three major town renovations (Times Square, Bay Oaks and Bayside Park) took center stage. $10 million was borrowed, plans were progressing, consultants were putting drawings together. Slide shows were being shown to the council. Of course, all three of those projects are now in a holding pattern for various reasons.
And, the lights are still out on Estero Boulevard.
There are so many moving parts on this issue that the town has been unable to even come close to a solution, or even offer up options for residents to take a look at.
The town has to deal with the FPL monopoly holding them hostage. FPL owns the light poles and hasn’t been willing to work with the town on a viable, affordable solution. There’s the turtles…and the turtles have a lot to say about this. There will be no lighting unless it’s turtle compliant. There’s the brightness of the bulbs, to make sure they are not unsafe for humans (see Burnt Store Road in Cape Coral). There’s the cost, with some estimates presented as high as $7 million, and that doesn’t include your monthly electric bill. And not to be forgotten in all of this…Estero Boulevard is a Lee County Road.
One thing everyone can agree on about Estero Boulevard at night. It’s too dark and the longer this issue lingers without a solution the higher the probability someone may get hurt or even killed.
Depending on who you ask, the town has had between 3 and 5 consultants pitch them on the lighting. One of those consultants hired by Town Manager Roger Hernstadt’s team turned out to be a convicted felon that had to be quickly dispatched. After pitching the town on the lighting project it was discovered that William Pino of Main Street Engineering in Miami was sentenced to a year in jail for bribing a public official.
More time wasted.
On April 20th of this year Kristi Spohn, a representative from SESCO Lighting, who is also a wildlife friendly lighting expert made a presentation to the council providing a 3rd party view.
She described the previous MPO lighting assessment done by the engineers as “beautiful work” with “very thorough details,” however she criticized the recommendations stating they centered on only one source of fixture. She also referred to the FPL information as a “skewed report” and that other options should be explored to find the right solution. “In a wildlife area there’s not one fixture that will do the job, you have to look at the environment.”
She indicated the town has two options: 1) to work with FPL , which would be cheaper up front but a never ending lease and you would have to “hold their feet to the fire” to get the right fixtures or 2) to go with a private partner with greater upfront costs but would ensure ownership and future control of the lighting system.
The town has not acted on any presentations by consultants. In fact, they are now in the process of searching for yet another consultant. Not too long ago when they put out an RFP for the project, they didn’t get a single response. It appears, that after putting out the RFP yet again, perhaps modifying it, there are two firms town staff is now interviewing before they bring it back to council.
The Public Safety Committee voiced frustration this week that the issue appears to be stalled. Chairman John Goggin said “it would be nice of Roger (Hernstadt) could give us a ballpark on the selection process.” The town says it is “in a cone of silence.”
Town Councilman Jim Atterholt tells us Hernstadt has reached out to FPL and there may be a lighting presentation coming soon to a town council meeting.
Town Councilman Dan Allers would like to see options on the table as soon as possible. Options the council can present to its residents.