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LA-MSID seeks to set up EOC in Lehigh before next hurricane

October 24, 2017
By ERIC DeVAUX ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

A month after Hurricane Irma bludgeoned Lehigh Acres, the Lehigh Acres Municipal Services Improvement District's board discussed what worked and what did not work during the storm.

The board met on Oct. 16 for its regular monthly meeting - the first since Irma hit the area.

"I think all five of us who governed the district played various roles before the storm, during and after and we were able to observe our employees and our employees' characters that came out very clearly to all of us," Commissioner Mike Welch, who is the chair, said.

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LA-MSID staffer Belinda Ogle was named the new Employee of the Month.

Some MSID staff and board members were in the building during the hurricane.

"There was a lot of stress," he said. "I think most of us were all very tired."

At the meeting, the Employee Of The Month award was given out to Belinda Ogle, who displayed "exceptional care" during Irma.

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"There was one person, as we went about and did our work here and in the other buildings, who kind of had the calming soothing personality," Welch said. "One of her positions in here is she keeps the place well maintained and she keeps it clean.

"She came to all of us who were here, 'Commissioner, is there anything I can get you? Do you need anything?'" he said. "Or she would get you what you're looking for."

Commissioner Ken Thompson praised Welch during the storm.

"I'd like to make a resolution to recognize a chairman that did an excellent job at a time where there was a lot of stress,"?he said.

During and after the storm, the board noticed a lot of shortcomings in being situated in Lehigh, so far from the Lee County Emergency Operations Center.

"We got kicked back to the 19th century with no cell phones and certainly no power," Welch said. "We are 25 miles east of the county's emergency operations center."

With support from a U.S. representative and other leaders, Welch wants to create a center adjacent to the MSID. During a storm, it could house members of the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District, Lehigh Regional Medical Center, Lee County government, Lee County School District, local utilities and service providers.

"When we work well, we work together in unison, good things happen" he said.

Welch has invited officials to sit down on Oct. 30 and discuss establishing the eastern EOC for Lehigh before the next storm.

"We probably will have one that we are fully prepared as much as we can to the assumption that we lose communications but that we are all set up even to the point of points-of-distributions for food and water," he said.

Commissioner Mike Bonacolta voiced concern about not being able to communicate with the public after the hurricane.

"The day after the storm, communication was near impossible. I was driving halfway up Joel and stopping on the side of the road just to make a phone call," he said. "I think there was a lack of communication within local government to us getting information to people."

At the meeting, the board also discussed the building of the new Joel Agri-Eco Park near Alva.

"The water they are going to discharge in our system is water that's been very very tough for us to accept," District Manager David Lindsey said. "The people have their own issues up there. It's going to be difficult for us to accept more stormwater into that system. We certainly don't want to get in the way of their park."

According to Lindsey, the problems with the park outweigh the community's want for it.

"My attitude is, 'Hey, I'm happy to help them out' - as long as it is revenue neutral to us and it doesn't harm our system,"?he said. "If they do end up having to put in new structures, making an agreement with them somehow that they'll maintain them."

A proposed interlocal agreement with Lee County regarding the park was brought forward, but voted down by the board.

The commissioners, however, voiced a willingness to work with the county on a new agreement.



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