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Residents provide input on water reclamation facility in fast-growing Southeast Lee County

Residents learn about the Southeast Advanced Water Reclamation Facility.
WGCU Public Media
Residents learn about the Southeast Advanced Water Reclamation Facility. Lee County held a public gathering on January 31 to get input on the need for wastewater treatment in the fast-growing southeast part of Lee.

Lee County hosted a public meeting Jan. 31 to get public input on a facility that will provide the county with six million gallons of water per day, with the capacity to provide more than 10 million gallons of water each day.

The Southeast Advanced Water Reclamation Facility (SEAWRF) Project is in the planning phase and is proposed to be constructed at 14201 Alico Road.

The wastewater treatment facility will be designed to support the existing and future population in Southeast Lee County, which is slated for a lot of growth in coming years.

Pam Keyes, the director of Lee County’s Public Utilities, said plans on this project started about five years ago.

“Every year the utilities works to see population growth and where that population is going to settle,” Keyes said. “We knew that the southeast area and Three Oaks area are in a growth pattern. There has been for many years. We knew that we would need additional capacity to serve those customers.”

She said that while growth in the area was anticipated, development has increased over the last three years.

“I don't know really what's causing it to be in that area other than it's economical to develop there,” Keyes said. “After Ian there were questions about will the development continue and so far every indication is it will continue to happen. Part of being a utility is that you have to be ready for those new customers when they come.”

Since Lee County already has five wastewater treatment plants in the unincorporated areas, this one will concentrate on providing service to the areas between Alico Road and Corkscrew Road.

Keyes said Lee commissioners put lots of value on water and the environment. This is no exception, she said.

“Wastewater treatment is public health, but we've got to be able to do it in such a way that we are protecting the environment and promoting good water quality,” she said. “We just want to be good stewards to the environment and to our community.”

Construction on SEAWRF is expected to begin in 2025 and be in operation in 2028.

Keyes said construction for the project will cost more than $100 million. This will come from taxes and developers that work with SEAWRF.

Developers will construct their own utility lines. “At the end of their project, they turn them over to the utility for ongoing maintenance,” Keyes said. The developers will pay connection fees to reserve capacity in the plant, and this goes to pay for the construction and the future expansion of the plant.

These connection fees will be set per unit.

Peter Simmons, a Pine Island resident, came to the public meeting about SEAWRF because of the significant impact it will have.

“There's a lot more people moving to Lee County, and there's a lot more environmental issues, and this is just one more example of the population growth in Lee County,” Simmons said.

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Serge Thomas, an associate professor of Aquatic Ecology at Florida Gulf Coast University, attended the meeting to express concerns about SEAWRF.

“To me it's a big problem, especially when you're putting up new infrastructure." he said.

Thomas said he moved to the area near SEAWRF to live in a rural community. He believes preserving some green space is vital, and that there has to be room to recharge the groundwater.

"This is what Southwest Florida especially is famous for," he said. But he added that things may not remain the same.

“When you're building a big infrastructure that changes everything,” Thomas said.

He said he’s for more people moving to the area, but he suggests population growth should be done differently. He used Babcock Ranch, a planned community in Charlotte County, as an example.

“People want to have a piece of land, they want to play golf. Southwest Florida cannot absorb the same density as the East Coast can,” Thomas said. “We’re not on the ridge so the water can stagnate around here. It's actually very difficult to predict how the water moves."

Lee County has a website specifically designed to inform people about this project. It says that the advanced water treatment facility will provide residents with higher quality water. It will remove nutrients in addition to the components already removed in a standard biological wastewater treatment facility.

This water can then be reused, such as for irrigation.

There will be 33 acres on SEAWRF’s property that will be a preserve after development. Any exotic plants will be removed to promote wildlife.

John Buchholz is the Director of Aqua Shore at Wild Blue’s Homeowners Association, which is close to where SEAWRF will be constructed.

“We're just interested to see what's going on near our community and see if we have any effect on our community and just to see in general how developments are going on around us,” Buchholz said.

Residents can stay informed on the progress of the project by going to this website.

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, part of the FGCU Journalism program, in collaboration with WGCU Public Media. Katie Fogarty can be reached at knfogarty4088@eagle.fgcu.edu