Woodstock Airport Meeting No Vote Tonight.

After weeks of trying to find a place on Pine Island to hold this special meeting the Pine Island/Matlacha Fire Department stepped up and offered their meeting room. The meeting started at 6:00 PM share with introduction of the Mosquito Control District committee members. The mosquito contract was formed back in the late 1950’s to take control of the mosquito problems in the area. In 1998 there were some revised legislation that refined their duties and obligation in Lee County. They have seven board members that are elected from each from the seven districts in Lee County. Mosquito Control is charged by law to “doing all things necessary for the control and elimination of all species of mosquitoes.” Russell P. Schropp, Practices in the areas of Land Use, Zoning and Environmental Law said, “We are in the early stages of this process, the application has been submitted there is no hearing scheduled yet and there will be notices sent out to schedule any upcoming hearing. The County regulation requires us to come out in the community when we have rezoning like this and inform the community about what is going on. We are not looking for votes tonight we are just here to present the facts and get your input.”

Tina Mayfield Ekblad, MPA, AICP, LEED, Vice President and Planning Director and Ken Gallander Principal Planner were there representing Morris Depew Associates, Inc. Civil Engineering in Fort Myers, Florida. Tina gave a brief description of the property and an aerial was setup for viewing and depicted the just under 34 area that is currently under contract for sale. They went on to make the following point:

• The Mosquito Control District is looking to purchase this property for the existing facilities onsite. The property has been zoned for an airport since 1978 and it already has a large hanger and air strip, along with other large buildings that can be used for storage of the environmentally friendly chemicals and fuel and a single family residence which can be used for employees.

• The request set fourth is to rezone the property from its current zoning of AG2 to Community Facilities. The reason for this request is to memorialize what is already on grounds today and allow the Mosquito District to be able to use the property to support their operations on the island and the surrounding areas.

• Approximately 70% of the districts operations to control mosquitoes occur on Pine Island and surrounding areas. The mosquito control does have a much larger facility in Buckingham; this would be considered an ancillary to support operations in this area.

• They are asking for a rezoning of the Woodstock properly from AG2 to Community Facilities is because Community Facilities zoning provide a public service. Community Facilities is a zoning designation that Lee County uses for most public buildings, such as libraries and fire stations, etc. This zoning changes the label on the map from AG2 to Community Facilities.

• Mosquito Control is required to have public meetings for this rezoning. This zoning change from AG2 to Community Facilities zoning does not allow Mosquito Control to expand the facility through the application that is being submitted today.

• If any expansions are required Mosquito Control would have to have a separate public meeting and come back to the community and present any expansion they are requesting at that time, which are the requirements of Lee County. The Mosquito Control is proposing to use what is already on the property today; there is no expansion of the property proposed at this time.

Ken Gallander, Principal Planner from Morris Depew Associates explained the operations of the district and how they expect this property to be utilized. One of the points is that this facility is not going to be a commercial facility and this zoning reemphasizes that this is a public entity, using this private airport that will be maintained as a non-general aviation landing facility, with no expansion of this property. Any expansion of the property would require a whole new application and process. The air field will not be expanded and no planes will be landing on this site since the runway is too small, it is to be use for helicopters only.

This facility would house two full-time helicopters, with hours of operation from 8 am to 4 pm during wet months of the season. Spraying during the wet season is two to three times a week. No fixed wing aircraft will be using this facility (as is now permitted.) During spraying season up to 5 helicopters could be refueled at this location.

Preventative maintenance will be conducted at this facility; at this time all maintenance is being done at the Buckingham facility which is not cost effective for the Mosquito Control or the tax payers. Four to five people will be employed at this facility, which is consistent with what is already working for Mosquito Control in the Pine Island area. The facility will have a fueling station and a loading/mixing area for their pesticide applications. These will be permitted and inspected per all federal and state regulations. All controlled substances will be contained in one of the buildings onsite.

Shelly Redovan, deputy director of the district, said the purchase wouldn’t cause a significant change in flight patterns and will allow helicopters to fly directly to marsh areas, after refueling and not over homes until the spraying process begins.

Carmen McKenny, Deputy Director of Lee County Mosquito Control answered some questions.

Questions and answers:
Question: There are three other heliports here on Pine Island, so why would Mosquito Control want to spend 1.5 million for that large of a parcel for only two helicopters?

Answer by Wayne Gill: We do have three other facilities here on Pine Island but the max acreage is about 10 acres. These facilities are not big enough to permanently house our helicopters or our fueling and chemical facility. A great deal of money is spent fairing and transporting the helicopters to Pine Island, so the time and fuel it takes to fly out to Pine Island from the Buckingham location is why we want the property, so we can permanently put the helicopters, supplies and fuel on the property. During season Pine Island has up to 6 helicopters on Pine Island, this is what it take to service the area. The Center Heliport will be closed down once a new location is located.

Question: Where will the EMS’s fly in?

Answer: The Mosquito Control will allow EMS and other emergency helicopters to use this air port. The same as they do right now at the other three heliports on Pine Island.

Question: Lee County said the Community Facilities zoning allows you to put in a drug rehab, prison and a whole other host of things with this zoning. Setup your facility on the back three acres and dedicate the remained of the property to 20/20 so it preserved for nature and we might consider that as a community.

Answer: Here’s what happen after rezoning, you are asserting that we could put a prison in without coming back to you all and that is not accurate according to the County regulations. We would have to come back to you to do a facility like that because it would require us to revise what is already on the property today. We would need a development order to come back to the panel for review and consideration, so the idea that we can do this without review is inaccurate. The traffic along would prohibit something like this from going in on a private road.

Question: What is the cost to fly the helicopters, fuel and chemicals from the Buckingham location to Pine Island?

Answer: The expense is not just the flying of helicopters to the area, we have booms and tankers that reduces the expense and elapsed times coming to Pine Island. With this facility we would not have as many tanker trucks and fuel trucks come out to the island. We would be re-supplying as supplies are used up but not three times a week trip that is now necessary when spraying. In the last seven years no flights to Sanibel are coming out of Pine Island. The areas being serviced are the mangroves around the island. Upper Captive comes out of Boca Grande.

Question: Who maintains the mosquito ditches, we use to have some good mosquito ditches but a lot of the have filled in and people afraid to pull out the mangroves had clog the ditches has closed up? What happened to these ditches, did they get taken over by Calusa Land Trust because all that mangrove area seems to go up behind Winn Dixie?

Answer: The mosquito ditches were dug a long time ago when the ditches were allowed to be dug. A lot of the is 20/20 lands now and actually up at smoke house bay the county filled in the ditches to create a natural marsh, the mosquito control begged them not to because most of the mosquito ditches are still working. Even if they are overgrown as long as the water is flowing the fish can get in and out of the ditches and that is what controls the mosquito in the upper areas. Even though we are not allowed to do anything with them they are still working if nobody disturbs them. We are not allowed to touch any part of the 20/20 lands. It is the property owner’s duty to maintain these ditches and as these ditches fill up all of our property will return to wetland and per the Southwest Water District; we as property owners have the right to maintain these ditches.

Question: Was the Pine Island Airport in Bokeelia ever looked at for this project?

Answer: Pine Island Air Port has some legal issues so we did not want to deal with this property. Plus it does not have the facilities as does this property.

Question: Will the property be fenced?

Answer: No

Question: How many trucks and chemical will be going across our bridges to restock this facility?

Answer: They are already doing that. But as a home base it will not be as often.

Question: Are you going to be using drones in the future.

Answer: Yes, but there is a lot of restrictions and the drones will have to be very big to handle any chemicals. We may be able to use drones to discover mosquitoes in uninhabited areas.

Question: Why was there such a short notice? (Editor’s note: PIN put the notice up the day we received it. We will follow up on this question.)

Statements from Pine Island Resident;
We have lived on Pine Island in pretty good conditions dealing with Mother Nature thanks to the Mosquito Control District and they only spray when they have to spray. So they are not spraying 365 days a year, but when they are dealing with chemical and they have evolved with chemical, it’s not like what they used to use in the 70’s and the 80’s its all environmentally friendly now. These helicopter are going to be taking off and landing on the east end of the airstrip over Matlacha Pass where they will not crash and burn over our houses and they already fly up and down this island all the time when they have to.

A Pine Island resident said “I’ve have a pool and sometime I want to skinny-dip and I don’t want a helicopter flying over my house all day long.”

No vote was taken but it seemed that half of the audience was in favor, the meeting concluded. Neighbors within 500 foot of the property will be contacted and rezoning signs will be posted on the property after the meeting with the hearing examiner.