Two local parks projects to be considered by TDC

lighthouseBY JACK SHORT – Representatives of Gasparilla Island State Parks submitted two applications to be included among the Lee County Tourism Development Council’s Beach and Shoreline project requests for the 2015/2016 funding cycle.

GISP would like the TDC to provide $135,000 to fund a project to restore and bring the pavilion near the lighthouse into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The current boardwalk spans 125 feet and crosses protected dunes, connecting the area near the lighthouse and the adjacent pavilion to the beach. Both ends have stairs and offer no access to people with certain disabilities. The new boardwalk would have ramps at both ends as well as aluminum handrails to ensure ADA compliance.

The project would also address “dilapidated wood and corroded fasteners” plaguing the structure and replace them with composite materials, pressure-treated wood and stainless hardware, according to the project application, signed by park staff Robert Longo.

The application stated that Gasparilla Island State Park had more than 850,000 visitors during the 2013/2014 fiscal year and ranked 8th on a list of most visited state parks and trails, of which there are 171. The estimated economic impact of that activity, according to the applicant, was just over $63 million.

The boardwalk would take 18 months to complete, including design and permitting, according to the applicant, and would be thereafter maintained by park staff. The state parks also pledged to cover any costs incurred for maintenance or repair of the boardwalk in the future.

The second project would require $50,000 to replace an existing restroom facility on Cayo Costa with a larger one, approximately twice as large, to accommodate current and projected increases in park attendance.

According to the application, signed by park manager Chad Lach, the park hosted approximately 98,000 visitors during the 2013/2014 fiscal year and had an economic impact of more than $5.5 million.

The project would comprise two phases, the first of which would be completed in a year, with the state park seeking additional funding during the 2016/2017 cycle to complete phase two.

Once completed, according to the application, the cost of maintenance, janitorial supplies, and staff would fall on the park.

In the section allotted for comments, it is noted that a member of the Coastal Advisory Council, which advises the TDC, asked why the state wasn’t funding boardwalk construction. Lach had no comment about that question, but said, “I always go to the state first to see if the funds are available. If the state doesn’t have the funds, I go elsewhere.”

The TDC’s website seems to indicate that cooperation between Lee and other agencies is common.

The variety of projects related to beach maintenance and renourishment, and park development, to which the TDC has donated more than $100 million out of its bed-tax collection “… represents a cooperative effort with governmental agencies in Lee County from our local municipalities to the federal government.”

Of at least two other projects with the potential to have a local impact, one was deemed ineligible because it would have primarily affected private land. That project would have required $150,000 to beautify “surrounding Useppa Island and including Whoopie Island.” It was submitted by the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society. According to the Lee County Attorney’s office, the project, “provides no access to the public and therefore would not be eligible for TDC funding.”

The second, which is eligible and will be considered, was submitted by Lee County Parks and Recreation and seeks $100,000 for county wide emergency beach clean up.

The TDC will meet for a related workshop to consider the 35 project applications submitted by over 15 agencies on April 30 and then formalize their recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners on May 14. The BCC is the final authority, and will consider the TDC’s recommendations for approval in September as part of their annual budget process, according to the TDC’s timeline.