6 months after Hurricane Ian: Southwest Florida communities rebuild and repair
Southwest Florida is still feeling the effects of the devastating hit from Category 4 Hurricane Ian nearly six months ago. The storm took homes, businesses, and local landmarks.
Besides the hard-hit islands, communities from Naples to Cape Coral were slammed. They have been assessing and repairing the damage and removing debris since the hurricane passed.
After six months of rebuilding, what does Southwest Florida still need to do to fully recover? Here's an update on what's been done and what's to come in some of our communities:
Debris collection is nearing its end
In Cape Coral, curbside storm debris collection has ended, with 1.96 million cubic yards of debris collected. Waste Pro, the city’s garbage hauler, has resumed its regular collection schedule.
Cape Coral has removed 717,135 cubic yards of canal debris and expects to finish by the end of March, with punch list items to be conducted in April.
Lee County and its unincorporated areas had 12 million cubic yards of debris.
The county arranged a deal with Waste Management Gulf Coast Landfill, which aided in handling commercial debris.
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The county could use the site off State Road 82 only on emergency basis for construction and demolition debris.
"That was a big decision to make, but it has helped incredibly," said Glen Salyer, assistant county manager in Lee. “The response increased once we were able to use Gulf Coast Landfill for disposal.”
Even with existing efforts, Lee County officials expect to be dealing with debris for years
"Clearly we'll have roofing material for years and will have ongoing reconstruction efforts for quite a while," Salyer said. The county expects to be getting shingles dumped off for years.
Homes and businesses: a long road ahead
Cape Coral was hit hard by Hurricane Ian with flooding in the south part of the city, wind gusts of 140 miles per hour, and damage to nearly all structures.
In Lee County, 132,327 residents have found permanent housing solutions inside or outside the county and 58,000 residents have relocated to short term housing for a period of time. 22,248 residents have been approved for rent assistance by FEMA.
"It's been a slow process but progress is being made ... We expect these (programs) to continue to grow," Assistant Lee County Manager Mark Mora said.
Marco Island suffered severe flooding during Hurricane Ian, pushing residents out of their homes.
“Many people had water in their homes. Anybody whose home was not above the current flood level had water, and even more had water in their garages," said Marco Island City Manager Mike McNees.
Marco Island officials say the area is in good shape six months after the hurricane.
“In terms of recovery, from the city point of view, we’re certainly 100 percent,” said McNees. “Some residents are still in remodeling or repair, but for the most part, the island has reached full recovery.
Recreation, restaurants are coming back
Most Cape Coral parks and city-owned facilities are open, except for the Cape Coral Yacht Club Community Parks and its facilities.
The Lake Kennedy Center is being temporarily used as a FEMA disaster recovery center, which is open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Chiquita Boat Lock is not operational but is passable for boaters.
Several beloved Naples businesses and restaurants sustained serious damage after Hurricane Ian’s impact six months ago, but the city has been piecing itself back together.
"Contractors are limited right now with all the construction happening in the area," Naples Director of Parks and Recreation Chad Merritt said.
Tin City Waterfront Shops, which is home to several locally owned stores and restaurants, reopened in December after sustaining major flooding from the hurricane.
Cambier Park, a local favorite, suffered intense flooding but is back to hosting concerts and events for the public.
Several Naples beaches have reopened such as Lowdermilk and Clam Pass. The city began issues permits for weddings on the “Wedding Beach” located at 8th St. S. in February.
"The entire beach was closed immediately after the storm, which included 40 public beach accesses," Merritt said. "We now have reopened 22 of 40 public beach accesses."
The Naples Pier took a severe hit from the hurricane, but city officials are reviewing new design plans to rebuild the city staple.
"The Naples Pier will require a complete redesign and rebuild," Merritt said. "The design phase will begin in April once the contract is awarded."
The Fort Myers Beach pier was also destroyed and will have to be rebuilt.
Lee County's parks took a hit during the hurricane with 114 parks sustaining damage. The county estimates it'll cost $16.4 million to repair the damage.
Lynn Hall Memorial Beach at Fort Myers Beach, Bunche Beach, Dog Beach, Boca Grande Beach access, Bonita Beach Park, and Bonita Beach access 1-10 have all reopened.
Reopening Bowditch Point Park must be coordinated with town of Fort Myers Beach, which is using the facility to sift sand to remove harmful objects deposited by the hurricane. Crescent Beach Family Park on the island is expected to open in May.
"We made reopening the beaches a priority," said Assistant Lee County Manager Christine Brady.
Roads, signage, traffic signals steadily return
Over 80% of Cape Coral’s 57,000 signs were damaged by Hurricane Ian, 8,000 of which are stop signs.
As of March 6, 6,189 of the 8,000 stop signs have been fixed with 1,760 remaining. All the stop signs at high-traffic locations have been fixed. The city projects to have all remaining stop signs fixed by June 1.
Lee County has 477 traffic signals — 400 were damaged in the hurricane. Of the county's 134 directional flashers, 92 were damaged, along with 13,467 road signs. Also in Lee: 6,647 damaged signs are being fixed this month with the cost reimbursable from FEMA.
Left hand turn signals will be also fixed this month after the county asked it be made a priority.
Hurricane Ian damaged nine bridges, including Sanibel Causeway, Hickory Boulevard bridge, Matlacha Bridge, and Little Carlos Pass. All of which are already on county lists for replacement. All bridges suffered approach slab damage, where the connection from the road meets the bridge deck; all of which were fixed.
Sanibel Causeway still needs work. County commissioners have approved $52 million in additional costs.
Costs are enormous, but federal money helping
Ian’s total cost to Cape Coral is $86 million, $54 million for debris removal, $22 million for emergency protective measures, and $10 million for parks, roads, buildings, equipment, and administrative fees.
“Recovery is a marathon and not a sprint. FEMA reimbursement processes take time,” Cape Coral spokesperson Kaitlyn Mullen said. “We cannot put a concrete date on when the city will be fully recovered, but we continue to make progress.”
FEMA has also brought 105 FEMA travel trailers to northwest Cape Coral after leasing the property from the owners of Tranquility Lakes RV Resort.
The estimated cost to repair and reopen parks and recreation facilities in Lee County is between $31 and $32 million.
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: How SWFL communities are rebuilding 6 months after Hurricane Ian