Lee County’s primary goal in improving the Sanibel Causeway is to keep intact the two islands’ Sanibel feel and their historical usage, Jesse Lavender, director of Lee County Parks & Recreation, told members of the Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce’s during a virtual Power Hour on October 6.
“That’s kind of why I wanted to get these renderings drawn up to share with the public,” he said during his Zoom slide presentation. “I’ve lived here my whole life. If I look at these renderings, I feel it’s in keeping the nature of the island. We’re not looking to change that up. It’s not Marco Island, it’s not Naples, it’s not even Fort Myers Beach. We want to preserve what we’ve had.”
Work began this summer on the project, which has a hard completion date of June 20, 2024. County crews have taken down invasive, nonnative Australian pines and started to build T-groins on Island B, closest to Sanibel. Lavender emphasized that design planning is only 30 percent decided, and the county welcomes feedback on the plans, which are available to view on the leegov.com/parks website.
Improvements already decided include more T-groins on both islands with beach renourishment, designated ingress and egress for parking areas, a roundabout for dropping off paddle craft and small sailboats, native landscaping that will provide more shade than the Australian pines did previously, stormwater management measures, pavilions on both islands, and permanent restrooms on both sides of Island A. Key to the new design, a dunes system with crossovers between parking and the beach will stabilize the islands and slightly raise their elevation to counteract sea-level rise.
Still on the drawing board, the county is considering a bike lane, a pervious walking path, rock enhancements on the south side of Island A to keep down wave action, fishing enhancements such as a cleaning station, and restrictions for Waverunners.
“We want to keep the historical activities on each island and make it safer and prevent erosion,” Lavender said. “Jet skis sometimes get careless and close to swimmers. We’re talking about swim zones, but that won’t come until later in 2024.”
Questions from meeting attendees reflected concern about changes to parking. Together on the two islands, there will be a total of 238 designated parallel and pull-in parking spots, including four RV spots. Lavender compared that to vehicular counts on the causeway this past Labor Day weekend – a total average of 411 a day on both islands. Some of the parking on Island A will be converted to event space for Easter Sunrise Service and SCCF’s annual fundraiser for Sanibel Sea School.
County commissioners will be meeting soon to decide on whether or not to institute parking fees on the causeway, plus other facets of the project, Lavender said.
“We appreciate what you’re doing on the project,” John Lai, chamber president and chief executive officer, told him. “You’re on the hot seat today. I think we had more than 20 questions. The community is very engaged with this project, as it should be. I know it will be something we can be proud of when it’s completed.”
A Fort Myers native, Lavender has served with Lee County Parks & Recreation for the past 17 years at almost every level. Prior to that, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with a bachelor’s degree in travel, tourism, and commercial recreation; and worked as a fishing guide in Pine Island Sound and Everglades National Park.
ABOUT SANIBEL & CAPTIVA ISLANDS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
The Sanibel & Captiva Islands Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to promoting the prosperity of its members and preserving the quality of life of our community. With more than 460 active Chamber members from both islands and businesses from Lee and Collier counties, the Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. The Francis P. Bailey, Jr., Chamber Visitor Center is located at the entrance to Sanibel Island and welcomes tens of thousands of visitors each year. VISIT FLORIDA named the visitor center one of 13 official Florida Certified Tourism Information Centers in the state. It is open 365 days a year and provides comprehensive information about things to do, places to visit, and where to stay, shop, and dine. The chamber website sanibel-captiva.org receives more than 1.3 million website visits per year.
For more information about the chamber, visit sanibel-captiva.org or contact Landen Drake, communications and marketing manager, at 239-472-8255 or Landen@sanibel-captiva.org.