Residents of Fort Myers Neighborhood Protect Liquid Asset

08/30/2010

Melanie Payne • Tellmel@news-press.com • August 30, 2010

John Potts was picking up The News-Press at the end of the driveway when he saw a guy with a clipboard walking around the Manuels Branch Creek that runs in front of his house.  Potts inquired what the man was doing.

“He said he was an environmental engineer hired by a contractor to check out the trees they were going to have to tear out,” Potts said.

The engineer showed him a plan, but Potts, 62, wasn’t wearing his glasses, so the man went on to explain it to him.  The plan, Potts was told, was to use backhoes and bulldozers to re-carve the creek, smooth out the land around it, plant sod and some trees and make it look pretty.

But the folks who live in the Fort Myers neighborhood around the creek, east of McGregor Boulevard near Fort Myers High School, like the natural look of the creek.  They don’t want a manicured canal with sparse plantings.  “The area provides a privacy barrier,” said Glenda Sirmans, who lives on Manuels Drive and faces the creek. “It’s the reason we moved here.”

What rankles her husband, John, is the neighborhood wasn’t consulted before the contract was put out for bid.  When Sirmans called the city, he said he was told they would be allowed to give input after the contract was awarded.  “That’s not how things are done in a democratic society,” Sirmans said.

Although the environmental engineer had told Potts the project was designed to resolve a flooding problem, that’s not what it’s for, said Saeed Kazemi, director of public works for the city.   It’s to improve water quality.  The city wants to put in another small dam — called a weir — west of Cortez Boulevard. This will slow the flow of water into the Caloosahatchee River, Kazemi said.

The city also wants to remove some of the exotic plants and trees growing in the creek, he said. But every tree slated for removal will be tagged and neighbors will get a chance to discuss if they want it removed or not.  The project is being funded by a grant from the South Florida Water Management District, Kazemi said. The city estimates the project will cost $140,000.

City Councilman Michael Flanders will discuss the project with concerned residents at 5:30 p.m. today, at the bridge over the Manuels Branch Creek at Cortez Boulevard.  “Cleaning up the creek and turning it into a canal, that’s not true,” Flanders said. “(The project) has been totally exaggerated and it’s scaring people to death.”

Flanders said he hopes the city and the contractor “preserve the beauty of the creek.”
Glenda Sirmans promised she and her neighbors would lock arms to block any bulldozer ripping into their bedraggled but beloved creek.

“It’s part of old Fort Myers and we don’t want to see it changed,” Glenda Sirmans said. “So much has changed. We want to hold on to something.”

— For more columns and reader forums go to news-press.com/tellmel. Write to Tell Mel at 2442 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Fort Myers, 33901. Call her at 344-4772 or e-mail her at tellmel@news-press.com.

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