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Town hall addresses Lee/Charlotte cooperation

April 19, 2024
By Anna Ridilla

Charlotte County elected officials and representatives gathered at the community center on Wednesday, April 17 for a townhall meeting to discuss topics of concern submitted by Gasparilla Island citizens and organizations.

The main topic of concern was a lack of mutual aid between Charlotte and Lee counties emergency response services. 

“This is really an opportunity to reeducate on the 911 dispatch system,” said Charlotte County Commission Chairman Bill Truex on Tuesday. “We’ve got to have these conversations.”

In terms of related issues faced after Hurricane Ian, there was no Charlotte County sheriff’s deputy on at the bridge to stop vehicles from entering the island. Access to the island was unmanned until the National Guard and Florida Highway Patrol were contacted, according to a talking point submitted by the Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority (GIBA) staff. 

At Wednesday’s meeting, Charlotte County officials in attendance were unfamiliar with the island’s hangtag, or hurricane pass, program. 

Lee County deputies were cross deputized across both counties for many years; however, now they are not, so they don’t have jurisdiction on the north half of the island. They attributed the termination of cross-deputization to concerns about crossing liability and training over the two counties. There was a point of clarification that if a Lee County deputy was “in pursuit;” they are able to continue into Charlotte County if that is the case.

Another EMS concern that was raised about non-storm related emergencies was the level of communication between GIBA and en-route emergency vehicles. Charlotte Fire Station 14 often responds to calls on the north end of the island, but GIBA needs to know that vehicles are on the way in order to hold the bridge open, a piece of communication that has improved recently but still lacking, said GIBA Executive Director Kathy Banson-Verrico. 

It takes seven minutes to open and close the bridge, a delay that could end up being fatal if communication is absent.

Overall, the consensus was that Lee and Charlotte counties emergency responders need to convene and discuss the process of communication and dispatches across departments so that resources are used effectively and not redundantly. This process will begin in short order.

Hurricane recovery and debris removal was discussed as well. After Hurricane Ian, people were confused as to where to put debris for pick up and when Charlotte County would come to get it. This, coupled with the unmanned bridge, resulted in illegal dumping. 

An additional hurdle for disaster recovery is that according to FEMA regulations, Charlotte County is not allowed to enter or pick up debris on private roads or property such as the many private condominiums on island. Congressman Greg Steube has since introduced the Clean Up DEBRIS Act (H.R.6108) which would provide debris removal for privately owned communities after major disasters, according to his representative Erica Gregory.

There was a slight progress report on flooding at the north end of the island, prompted by a question from Blosser. There have been a few improvements made; however, if there was another Hurricane Ian-level disaster, that area would be underwater, said Banson-Verrico from GIBA.

There was a brief discussion about traffic safety at the north end of the island, with a suggestion for additional crosswalks, sidewalks and speed bumps from the entry to the Boca Grande Club property to Kappy’s Market.

Officials at hall

The town hall featured a number of officials:

Elected Officials: 

Bill Truex, Chairman, Charlotte County Commission

Joe Tiseo, Charlotte County Commissioner 

Leah Valenti, Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections 

Kim Amontree, Charlotte County School Board


For Sheriff Bill Prummell – Capt. Rocco Casano and Capt. Darrell Caparo, C.C.S.O

For Senator Rick Scott – Erin Denver, Southwest Florida Representative

For Congressman Greg Steube – Erica Gregory, District Director

For Congressman Greg Steube – Riana McDonald

For Congressman Greg Steube – Edward Stokes

Chief Legislative Aide, office of State Senator Ben Albritton – Karen Waley

For Sheriff Carmine Marceno – Lt. Michael Sawicki, L.C.S.O

Additional Officials:

Jason Fehr, Charlotte County Public Safety Director and Fire Chief 

C.W. Blosser, Boca Grande Fire Department Chief Blosser.

Capt. Bernie Faccilonga, L.C.S.O. representing Sheriff Carmine Marceno along with Lt. Mike Sawicki

State candidate Danny Nix