Earlier this morning, the Gateway Sun initiated the following public records request with the South Florida Water Management District:
Our publication has seen documentation that the SFWMD ordered the Gateway Services Community Development District in Gateway, FL (near Fort Myers) to fix a single pond in this community. The GSCDD has since presented the narrative to the public that as a result of this order of a single pond being fixed, the SFWMD wants every pond in the community fixed — or else. This prompted the creation of the Lake Bank Restoration Project in Gateway. So far, the GSCDD has spent over $4 million to correct problem ponds, with plans to spend over $20 million more. The net effect has been to increase Gateway District assessments by nearly 20% for each of the last few years to pay for pond repairs.
In April 2017, we contacted Brian Rose in your Fort Myers office to request any documentation that orders, or even recommends, that additional ponds in Gateway be fixed. Mr. Rose said he would get back to us, but he never did.
Therefore … with the exception of the SWFMD order to repair Lake 4-T-LK3 in Gateway in April 2014, and while limiting all searches to the past 5 years, our publication is seeking:
1) any additional documentation from the SFWMD to the GSCDD that would compel the Gateway District to repair one or more of its ponds, and;
2) any documentation from the SFWMD to the GSCDD that would serve as a warning or recommendation that any ponds within Gateway may need to be repaired, and;
3) Any complaints from residents of Gateway, FL to the SFWMD that their ponds are in need of repair, including the complaint from Mr. Dave Harley in regards to Lake 4-T-LK3.
NOTE: Literally at the exact same time we pressed “submit” — at 9:06am this morning — Rose sent us another copy of the single order for Lake 4-T-LK3, which we already had.
We received the following automated response from the SFWMD in regards to the records request:
Reference No: P003842-020918
Contact E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for contacting the South Florida Water Management District. Your public records request has been received and assigned as reference number P003842-020918 for tracking purposes.
This request is currently being processed. Please note that some requests may have costs incurred based on the nature of the request, such as duplication charges, shipping charges and or special service charges. For requests requiring more than one-half hour of time there will be an hourly salary charge for staff to compile the information, copy records and/or review records for statutory exemptions. If charges are applicable, and estimate will be provided prior to fulfillment of this request.
You can monitor the progress of your request under “My Requests” and you’ll receive an email when your request has been completed. If you have any questions, you may respond to this email or call 561-682-2729.
Public Records Office
South Florida Water Management District
We are attempting to retrieve and showcase to the residents of Gateway any specific order from the SFWMD that compels the Gateway Services District to spend tens of millions of your dollars on the Lake Bank Restoration Project. Absent any orders to fix ponds, in all honesty (speaking only for myself) even a warning or recommendation would suffice.
The narrative that has been created by the Board of Supervisors is that if this money is not spent the SFWMD will punish Gateway.
We’re simply asking to see proof of that.
Just as importantly: getting documentation from the SFWMD that says specific lakes need to be fixed would also provide independent verification that all of the fixes are actually necessary.
We began investigating this last year and were told by Brian Rose, Section Leader-Engineering for the SFWMD’s Lower West Coast Service Center in Fort Myers, that he was going to look in to the situation in Gateway.
“I don’t specifically recall why Gateway is repairing the lake banks. I will need to look into this and get back to you. Please allow some time for a more detailed response,” said Rose on April 11, 2017.
It’s been almost ten months and Rose still hasn’t gotten back to us. (UPDATE: He just sent us a copy of the order to fix the one single pond, which we already had.)
The SFWMD has an office in Fort Myers, so it would not incur a great expense for their organization to take a tour of Gateway’s ponds and help identify which ponds actually need to be fixed. Or to show up at a GSCDD meeting and explain to the public what their standards are, what their enforcement policies are, and where they feel the GSCDD needs to improve its pond system.
Hopefully the SFWMD provides this type of guidance before millions more is spent on the next round of pond fixes.
I don’t think there ever was such an order. But we’ll see, won’t we?
It also seems unlikely to me that they would have ordered that EVERY pond in Gateway needs to be fixed, or else.
After-all, we don’t hear any squeeling or complaining from other parts of the state about how the big, mean, unreasonable South Florida Water Management District is going from town to town forcing cash strapped municipalities to raise taxes so they can shell out $25 million to fix ponds.
So why would they do that to Gateway?
Having followed this situation very closely for the last few years, I simply don’t trust that the GSCDD is actually in need of all the work they say they need. The GSCDD may need some ponds fixed, but I think Gateway residents are owed independent verification.
The logical entity to provide independent verification would be the SFWMD, since they are the legal authority in this part of Florida – and the organization that could sanction the Gateway District over improper ponds.
So why not invite them over, give them a tour, and ask them their opinion and what standards they’re holding other communities to in South Florida?
If they say a certain pond needs to have a repair plan put in place, then okay let’s have it fixed. But if they look at a pond and say “that is not a pond we would order you to fix” then why are we borrowing money and raising assessments to fix it?