As the first order of business at their meeting Tuesday afternoon, the Marco Island’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee heard reports from city staffers on damage to park properties from Hurricane Irma.
There was damage to every city park, they were told, with a long litany of trees, light poles and flagpoles down, awnings at the racquet center “missing or torn to pieces” and the roof seriously damaged, portable restrooms, the fountain at Veterans’ Community Park damaged, and the scoring tower at Winterberry Park blown over and destroyed.
There were 20-30 trees down at Veterans’ Park, and 90 at Mackle Park, said staffer Martha Montgomery – “actual trees, not bushes.” But it could have been much worse, and Samantha Malloy reported that at Mackle Park, “the new community center did really well – there’s really no damage,” apart from some scratches in the flooring when it was not protected.
While the storm pushed back the timetable for starting to use the new facility, “we’re going through the punchlist now,” said Malloy. “We hope to start moving in in November, and be fully open in December.”
“Take as long as you need to get it right,” said Chairman Carlos Portu.
Committee member Allyson Richards asked if funds to repair damage to the city’s parks, specifically landscaping, might come from FEMA, but was told there was “no positive news” in that regard. Fallen trees tore up pavement and sidewalks, and damaged fences including at the dog park. Montgomery had updates on vendors who were repairing or bidding on much of the work, but added, “it’s very hard to get a fence contractor out, or get a trailer now” in the aftermath of the storm.
At Veterans’ Park, “with the trailer gone, maybe we can parlay that into some funding” from FEMA, suggested Portu.
Member Michael Levine posited that “maybe, hardwood trees just don’t belong here,” as they seemed to fare worse than palm trees in the hurricane winds.
“Tree cover is very near and dear to me,” said Portu. “The most disheartening part of the storm is how much of the tree canopy we lost. It was so hot after the storm – there wasn’t a shady spot on the island. As a community, we’ve got to work on putting some of those trees back. We need to fight for some dedicated funding” for trees.
“We need to be looking at thousands of trees. I’d like to see us put back 5,000 in five years, 1,000 a year.” Member Rich Lutz, who in his day job is director of engineering at the JW Marriott, cautioned “wait until you see the new tree prices.”
Portu reported on the proposed update of the 2009 master plan for Veterans’ Park, saying that he had participated in a “scoring session” with others including Lutz, and selected the proposal from Kimly-Horn, subject to City Council approval.
“We can take ideas from all the submittals” from the three firms bidding, said Portu.
One more casualty of Hurricane Irma, it seemed, was the initiative to establish a youth council, reported committee member Jerra Minning. A total of zero applications had been received, said Malloy. The decision was made to extend the deadline in light of the storm and lack of response. Richards volunteered to undertake outreach visits to the schools to promote the council, and member Meg Bonos offered to generate a promotional piece as a leave-behind and web page.
Committee members grappled with the Sunshine Law in figuring out what communications among themselves would or would not be permissible, not wanting to put the project on hold until their next meeting.
That meeting was set for Tuesday, Nov. 21, back in City Council chambers, and in just less than an hour, Portu adjourned the session.