Resilient Lee, a Lee County government task force intended to help the area recover from Hurricane Ian and prepare for future storms, will continue gathering public input through Friday.
Citizens can share their thoughts through an online portal attached to 43 subcategories and 174 pages of documents written after dozens of public meetings and an online survey open since May.
The feedback gathered may or may not be used to help the county decide how to allocate $1.1 billion in federal grant money. Lee County government officials provided clarifications and some corrections of an earlier Gulfshore Business report.
About $660 million, or about 60% of the federal funds, will go toward affordable housing projects; $352 million will go toward bolstering infrastructure; $75 million will go toward buying out volunteering residents of their homes; $15 million will go toward public services to help people with disabilities, victims of abuse and other needs; $25 million will go toward planning; and $55 million, 5% of the total, will go toward administrative costs, according to the 2023 Action Plan, which is almost 300 pages.
While declining an interview request last week, Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane said county manager Dave Harner would be best suited to speak to about Resilient Lee. County Strategic Resources and Government Affairs Assistant County Manager Glen Salyer oversees that office.
On Monday, county Office of Communications Director Betsy Clayton said in an email the Board of County Commissioners would oversee the grant money.
“The Resilient Lee effort is entirely separate and intended to formulate a strategic long-term plan that comprehensively addresses recovery and resiliency needs to guide the county’s, and its jurisdiction’s, future efforts,” Clayton wrote. “It assists with interagency coordination and cooperation among jurisdictions, as well as informs efforts to pursue additional storm recovery funding opportunities.”
The Resilient Lee task force is separate from the federal funding, Clayton said in an email that included a link to a YouTube video of Commissioner Brian Hamman explaining the differences between the two entities.
A Community Development Block Grant, or CDBG, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide the funding.
“This is one grant, one funding mechanism that will help us take care of housing and infrastructure repairs,” Hamman said in the video posted Oct. 3. “But it’s really only one piece of the puzzle.”
Resilient Lee works in an advisory role but doesn’t have authority over the funding, county officials said.
“There’s going to be efforts that the planning task force is going to come up with that may not be specifically geared toward low- and moderate-income communities,” Hamman said. “But they’re going to need to be paid for. We’re going to need to go and get different funds and different grants in order to be able to pay for it.”
At 10 a.m. Dec. 15, the Resilient Lee task force will meet again at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers to discuss next steps in gathering feedback.
When the public commenting period ends Friday, eight business days will have passed for citizens to read and comment on eight areas—education and workforce, planning and capacity, infrastructure, housing, economic recovery, health and social services, cultural resources and natural resources.
There’s a portal on the Resilient Lee website with a link for public input. There, the documents are available to read in PDF format along with an online portal for sending comments.
Lee County Commissioner Kevin Ruane released a video on Resilient Lee’s website in which he encouraged the public to participate.
So far, about 600 residents have attended the public meetings, Clayton said, and about 6,000 people responded to online surveys.
Caroline Klancke, an attorney and executive director for the Florida Ethics Institute, said public participation remains important.
She called reading the volume of Resilient Lee material a Herculean task, not just because of the length, but because of the expertise required to understand the subject matter.
“It would take an engineer… indeed, someone with a profound knowledge of infrastructure, education, economic planning,” Klancke said. “And those things are in scant supply.”
Locals with that kind of expertise also stand to profit from the federal funding, which is why she pleaded for more public participation.
“It’s potentially, absolutely a concern,” she said. “Accountability is only meaningful when there is scrutiny. And the only people who can provide that scrutiny are members of the public.
“The relationships in terms of business dealings, the expenditure plans, with regard to these funds, and who and where they will be allocated, public scrutiny is imperative for accountability for the governments of Lee County to be meaningful.”
The public should not be deterred from participating for lacking any expertise, she said, because anyone who endured Hurricane Ian has all the expertise required to participate.
“For those individuals who just want to converse, that’s an avenue for which it is not too late by any means,” Klancke said. “It does not require a Ph.D. or a granular level of detailed knowledge of the hundreds of pages of information, single spaced and densely provided.
“The development of recovery and resiliency plans, is expending, let’s be candid, your money, the public’s money, both through federal funds but also local funds. And that they’re partnering with businesses and entities in your local community has to be guided by the public.”
Hagerty Consulting, which was hired by the county to work with the federal government to obtain the funding, can take up to 5% of the funds, as the company is charging $60 to $235 per hour for each staffer working on the funding that involves at least 26 government agencies, the contract with the county shows, and the county confirmed.
“While staff and consultant expenses can be included in these costs, it is unknown what these expenditures will total over the life of the six-plus year program,” Clayton said. “As of now, it is anticipated that Hagerty Consulting will receive around $110,000 for allowable administrative costs. These expenses are unrelated to their work on the Long-Term Recovery Task Force and the Resilient Lee Plan.”