Water quality, roads, transportation my priorities

By Cecil Pendergrass, News-Press Editorial

It is an honor to serve you this year as the chairman of the Lee Board of County Commission. I truly believe our county is the best county in Florida because of you.

It still seems surreal that just six months ago, we were faced with Irma’s devastation. The country witnessed the strength and fellowship from individuals, community organizations and government agencies during and after the storm.

As we continue to recover, we must also continue to educate and focus our efforts on improvement for the betterment of our quality of life.  A harsh reality that we faced was flooding throughout the whole county. Heavy rainfalls in late August and during the hurricane in early September exceeded the capacity for our storm water system already in place.

As a result, Lee County government is working with other agencies and municipalities to address and resolve any future flooding issues for a long-term fix. We immediately cleaned up debris from our waterways that contributed to the flooding and are now in the process of identifying causes and lifelong solutions. Local engineers and county staff are out in the field collecting data and information from all major watersheds throughout the county. In doing this, we can provide immediate and longstanding repairs to the stormwater system, ultimately reducing future flooding. For more information on this initiative, please visit www.leegov.com/irma.

I continue to maintain focus on my goals for Lee County in 2018: transportation and safety, water quality and conservation lands, job creation and reduction of regulation costs.

We need and will build roads. The county commission has made transportation a major priority, which comes with a price tag of $245 million. Over the next five years, we are fast tracking the tier 1, or high priority, transportation projects that are needed countywide.

The exciting aspect of it we will not be raising your taxes, bonding or borrowing to pay for the projects. We are using a funding mechanism called Growth Increment Funding (GIF), which is taking a portion of funds from property taxes that is generated from the sale of a commercial and residential property to fund the projects. The GIF mechanism is a fair and balanced approach, with growth truly paying for growth.

As a result, we are able to expedite much needed road improvements. In Lehigh Acres, we are funding road resurfacing at a cost of $5 million a year for the next 5 years. We are also on schedule for the widening of Homestead Road to a four-lane road with a six-foot sidewalk and the widening of State Road 82 to six lanes from Ortiz Avenue to Lee and Colonial Boulevard. For a list of all county road projects, please visit www.leegov.com/dot/roadwatchupdate.

All road projects are designed with the Complete Streets model in mind, which requires $4.5 million over the next 5 years with a total of $10.6 million for safe access for all pedestrians and bicyclists. I will continue my efforts this year for major roadway improvements and push for Corkscrew Road to be included in our Capital Improvement Project (CIP) list along with the extension of Alico Road to SR 82.

As a lifelong resident of Lee County, I understand the importance of water quality for our future and will continue to work with our state and federal elected officials and agencies to garner support and funding for our local and regional water quality projects. The C-43 reservoir and GS-10 project are crucial for storing and cleaning water that comes from the Caloosahatchee before it reaches our irreplaceable estuaries and beaches.

Locally, we will continue to reduce nitrogen at 54,395 pounds per year and invest $15 million in local projects over the next five years. I will continue to be a voice for our area and support reducing fresh water flow from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River.

It is vital that we preserve our green space for our quality of life here in Lee County. In the last 4 years, this Commission has purchased over 5,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land for our Conservation 20/20 Program. The County most recently acquired Edison Farms, a 4,000-acre parcel in South Lee County, which will serve as a jewel for the 20/20 program and a great destination for public access.

It is an honor to continue to serve you and Lee County, the greatest place to call home.

Cecil Pendergrass is chair of the Lee County Commissioners.