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Undergrounding power lines, improving east-west roads, converting septic tanks to sewer, fortifying docks, cellphone towers, satellite communication systems and barrier island lighting were just some of the topics posed at the Wednesday Resilient Lee infrastructure task force meeting.  

With 30% of the federal government’s $1.1 billion grant money available for wild-card expenses, bolstering Lee County’s infrastructure could have an infusion of cash. 

There was another big concern among some of the 16 task force team members on hand.  

“Sheltering and the evacuation routes,” said Trish Lassiter, a member of the task force and key account executive for Lee County Electric Cooperative, which powers large parts of the county, including Sanibel and Captiva islands and parts of Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral. “As a resident, those are two major issues.”  

The infrastructure task force at the Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers was joined by about 20 members of the public to help prioritize infrastructure needs. Those needs will be passed along to the Resilient Lee task force, which meets again May 26. The process of deciding how to allocate grant money will continue throughout the summer. With team leader Ryan Carter absent, Jon Romine of the Collaboratory moderated the meeting.  

Lassiter and her LCEC colleague George Smith, the company’s supervisor of system planning, also hope some of that federal money can go toward hardening their power lines.  

Within two weeks of Hurricane Ian, 90% of LCEC’s power lines were back online, Smith said.  

Lassiter and Smith said the undergrounding of power lines isn’t necessarily the answer to prevent widespread power outages from future storms because of LCEC’s lines in coastal areas.  

“If there’s flooding, it takes longer to repair,” Lassiter said.  

Task force member Dave Kistel, vice president of facilities and support for Lee Health, said the hardening of water lines feeding HealthPark Medical Center in south Fort Myers would be critical to guard against future storms. A water main line broke near the hospital during the storm.  

“If you don’t have water, you don’t have fire protection,” Kistel said. “We had to tap into our retention ponds. Once you lose your fire suppression system, you have to go into a fire watch, and that causes problems.”  

Within five days after the storm, Lee Health’s water systems were stabilized.  

“The main line to the barrier islands was breached,” Kistel said of what caused the problem.  

Like Lassiter and Smith, Kistel also stressed the importance of shelters.  

“We have an elderly community,” Kistel said. “We need to make sure we have appropriate places for them.”

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