Moving advisory board meetings to the city’s Community Room, and putting them on television, seems to be bearing fruit as a strategy to encourage public participation. Thursday morning, the public comment portion of the Waterways Advisory Committee meeting lasted longer than any other business, and among the citizens showing up to weigh in on navigational topics was City Manager Jim Riviere. Additional audience members included City Council chairman Joe Batte and member Larry Sacher.
The meetings typically do not draw a large crowd. But with the live TV cable feed, new this year, Marco residents can monitor the proceedings from the comfort of their homes, and if something comes up on which they want to comment, they can jump into their car and make their voices heard. It is a compact island, and the centrally located city government center is only minutes away from any Marco address. Of course, they will be televised, so they might want to glance in the mirror and be sure they are fully dressed.
Riviere is right next door at City Hall, a minute’s walk away.
“I watch all the advisory committee meetings, if I can’t be there,” he said.
The agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the waterways group featured final review of the seawall manual, codifying regulations that, with the City Council’s okay, will lay out the new rules for the replacement and repair of the 50 miles of seawall likely to fail within the next 10 years. But the committee opted to put off that review until next meeting, giving Public Works Director Tim Pinter the chance to go through recommendations still being received from the members.
One of those members, at his first meeting as a committee member, is Brian Gilmore, owner of Collier Seawall & Dock, helping to add an industry perspective to what is feasible for the volatile issue, in which no one wants the work going on in their backyard, until it is literally the seawall in their backyard which needs repair.
“With my knowledge of infrastructure, as someone who has been working in this field for years, I hope to be able to help,” said Gilmore. “We all want what’s best for the island.”
Don Dilks presided over his last meeting before stepping down as chairman, although he will remain a member of the committee. Richard Shanahan, in absentian, was unanimously elected the new chairman, moving up from the vice chairman slot.
“See, that’s what you get when you don’t show up for a meeting,” said Dilks. Jim Timerman was elected vice chairman.
Dilks was within seconds of gaveling himself out of a job, and closing the meeting, when the public demanded its say. John Phillips took the microphone to call the committee’s attention to what he described as a dangerous condition for navigation at the channel entering the Marco River by the Villa de Marco.
“On a big high tide, the current screams through,” said Phillips, adding that dredging that was supposed to alleviate the problem seemed to have made it worse. In the last two months, he said, four boats have crashed into the docks there. The danger is real, especially when meeting another boat headed in the opposite direction. Phillips advocated placing a sign or signs warning boaters of high currents and advocating local knowledge for those making the passage.
“A strong incoming tide pushes you into the dock,” confirmed Timmerman. Saying he is on that waterway all the time, he volunteered his services to install a new sign or replace an existing, faded sign. Riviere said he, too, had experienced strong currents at Villa de Marco.
Pinter perked up the committee’s interest by mentioning his department is soon to take delivery of a new maintenance and repair vessel, a Carolina skiff outfitted with a crane. The “pure workboat,” said Pinter, was acquired for a total cost of approximately $25,000 equipped, boat, motor and trailer. City environmental specialist Nancy Richie said that signage is useful, but the key to improving safety is a law enforcement presence on the water.
“If we’re an island, why is a marine officer only part-time?” asked Gilmore. In a textbook example of citizen input getting a response from government, the issue was put on the next meeting’s agenda, and will be considered. Timmerman offered to report on the matter.
With the principal item on the agenda presentation of a revised draft of the seawall ordinance from Pinter, the next meeting was scheduled for April 18.