“When we say ‘long-term recovery,’ it does take a long time to recover,” Lee County Manager Dave Harner told a capacity crowd at the Sep. 27 SanCap Chamber business luncheon at The Sanctuary Golf Club on Sanibel Island. “There have been a lot of opportunities from the state that has been wonderful to provide these opportunities for us to move a lot quicker.”
The chamber hosted a panel of government officials to look back at the last 364 days since Hurricane Ian struck Southwest Florida and ahead to the future of recovery. Harner, Sanibel City Manager Dana Souza, County Manager Dave Harner, Lee County Department of Transportation (DOT) Deputy Director Rob Price, and Florida House Representative for the 76th district Adam Botana all agreed “thank God for the State of Florida,” as Souza put it.
Price started off the look ahead with a report on causeway progress, explaining that state measures from the Florida Department of Transportation in recent years “are really going to help us moving forward.”
He showed a PowerPoint presentation of measures going forward to fortify the causeway against future stormwater and a timeline for its completion.
“The project is in the late stages of completion,” he said. “They are really starting to intensify the night work that’s happening out there right now. We are doing our best to minimize impact…. But I don’t want to sugar-coat it. There’s going to be a lot of activity happening in the next three months.”
His timeline slide showed a December 2023 estimated completion of road surfacing. He projected the reopening of the Punta Rassa boat ramp for the end of 2024 and causeway islands recreation areas restoration for late 2027.
Other panelists commended the state for its assistance in picking up the tab for debris removal on the islands and providing funding to bridge the long wait time to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance money.
“If the state wasn’t involved, we’d be having this luncheon on the mainland,” said Botana.
Souza expressed gratitude to Gov. Ron DeSantis for swift bridge repairs and power restoration, but also attributed the great gains made in the past 364 days to island businesses and residents.
“It’s just amazing to see the recovery efforts that have happened,” he said. “And the other thing I’ll say is that it’s amazing to see the attitudes of the people on the islands…. We’ve kept our spirits up no matter what we’ve been faced with. People are very optimistic, and we all know we have challenges ahead of us in the next couple of years, but we need to maintain that optimism.”
Harner gave a shout-out to Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau Executive Director Tamara Pigott and her team for targeting the “loyalists” – tourists who are past fans of the destination – and installing strategic, interactive webcams throughout the county. “It’s really important that we continue to educate the public on our community,” he said.
“We have to support the businesses that are open,” said Souza. “I want to say also that we have to support the chamber of commerce…. We as a community cannot afford to let the chamber of commerce fail on what their mission is or even be minimized, because this recovery is long-term, and the work that they do is critically important to this community.”
“The panel talked about the importance of partnerships, and we at the chamber could not survive without the great partnerships we have established with the government factions that were represented in the panel,” said SanCap Chamber president and CEO John Lai. “We thank them for all they have done to bring us to a point we never dreamed we be this time last year, and for their support of our island communities.”
He thanked Stevens Construction and Sanibel Captiva Trust Company for sponsoring the September luncheon, and Jeff Muddell with Sanibel Captiva Trust for moderating the panel discussion with questions pre-submitted by chamber members.
The chamber has scheduled the next business lunch meeting for Wednesday, Oct. 25, at the Pink Shell Beach Resort on Fort Myers Beach, featuring speaker Dana Young, Visit Florida president and CEO, as guest speaker. Comcast and Clive Daniel Home are sponsoring the luncheon.
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. The Chamber plays a key role in facilitating communication and cooperation between business, residents, and government to enhance the economic health of the islands. Its website, sanibel-captiva.org, receives over 1.3 million visits per year. For more information about the chamber, visit sanibel-captiva.org or contact John Lai, president and CEO, at 239-472-2348 or [email protected].