Where were you when Hurricane Ian blew into Southwest Florida? It’s one of those milestone moments in our lives that will stay etched in our memories forever.
But, the days and weeks after the storm are a blur for many of us – seeing the damage and destruction firsthand, living without power, unable to drink water out of our faucets. While the situation has improved, many scars remain.
Now, the federal government is pitching in $1.1 billion to help Lee County recover. Utilizing those funds in the best way possible is a big task, and that’s why county commissioners formed Resilient Lee. The Recovery Task Force is soliciting input from the community on where that billion dollars should be spent and will help direct exactly where it goes.
“The public needs to understand that they need to take the time to do the surveys or attend the public meetings because the county really wants their input,” Fort Myers native Johnny Limbaugh added.
Limbaugh is keeping tabs on the process and making sure the most vulnerable groups don’t get left behind. He wears many hats in the community, and doesn’t take that for granted.
“As the Chairman of the Lee Homeless Coalition, it’s important to understand what the resources are out there so that we can take full advantage of those, and also to provide input to the county on how they could do better in providing some of those resources to help us help them,” Limbaugh told WINK Investigates reporter Kellie Miller.
Who is part of the Resilient Lee task force
The task force is made up of an oversight committee of 13 local leaders.
- Kevin Ruane, Lee County Commissioner, Chairman of the Recovery Task Force
- Chris Corrie, Councilman, Bonita Springs
- John Gunter, Mayor, Cape Coral
- Jon McLain, Mayor, Estero
- Kevin Anderson, Mayor, Fort Myers
- Bill Veach, Council Member, Fort Myers Beach
- Holly Smith, Councilwoman, Sanibel
- John Holloway, Undersheriff, Law Enforcement
- Robert Dilallo, Fire Chief, Fire
- Armor Persons, Chairman, Lee County School Board
- David Collins, Board Member, Lee Health
- Jenna Persons-Mulicka, Representative, Legislative Delegation
- Matt Caldwell, Property Appraiser, Constitutional Office
Resilient Lee’s Diverse Branches
Then, there are 8 branches, each of which covers a specific topic.
- Planning and Capacity
- Economic Recovery
- Education and Workforce
- Natural Resources
- Health and Social Services
- Cultural Resources
Local business owner Sandy Stilwell Youngquist oversees Planning and Capacity. “Personally, I grew up here in Lee County, and I own businesses out on Captiva, I have five restaurants, they’re all currently closed right now, and a small inn that will probably need to be mostly torn down…and so, it’s been devastating to not have anything open. And, so I’ve been going through this build back, and so I kind of understand the frustration people have,” Stilwell Youngquist explained.
Resilient Lee seeks community input
Building back and planning for long-term resiliency takes time. The first order of business is gathering community input at town halls and through online surveys.
Stilwell Youngquist added, “A lot of times people think that, ‘Oh, my voice really doesn’t make a difference.’ But it really does. And as we get all of this data in, we’ll have a common thread of a voice, and then we’re looking at short term goals and we’re also looking at long term goals.”
The goal of Resilient Lee task force
Improving immediate recovery response efforts post-disaster is one goal. For example, how can the money be used to expedite the process of getting people back into their homes? How can it be used to ensure power and internet are restored quickly in all areas? Those are questions Resilient Lee is discussing.
“Dividing up that money is not an easy situation, and the government is going to put a lot of criteria on it, income criteria and other criteria that the committees are going to have to look at. So, when you actually silo out all that money, it’s not going to address all the needs that are coming forth. But it’s still important to understand what those needs are,” Limbaugh said.
You still have time to offer your input. At the end of July, Resilient Lee’s expected to deliver a plan to the community based upon the data they collect, including from the surveys they hope the community will fill out.