The Environmental Protection Agency worried that pollution from additional stormwater runoff generated by the expansion would harm lakes, estuaries and rivers and destroy wetlands. The agency knew that county engineers couldn't say for sure how much pollution would be created after development. And the agency had accused the South Florida Water Management District of setting inadequate pollution standards. The argument over standards has effectively delayed for several years other road expansions and developments in the area.
Spurred by the deadlock, developers, environmental regulators, Lee County officials and others formed a public-private partnership called Water Enhancement & Restoration Coalition (WERC) to attempt to both move developments forward and preserve water quality.
A key move by the group was hiring Harvey Harper, owner of Orlando-based Environmental Research & Design and a former engineering professor at the University of Central Florida. For $40,000, Harper developed a model -- based specifically on southwest Florida's rainfall patterns -- to calculate how much pollution will be created by stormwater runoff.
The model enables engineers to incorporate the right drainage systems, such as filter marshes, to capture runoff so that post-development pollution will not exceed predevelopment levels. The model is specific to developments affecting at least five acres of wetlands.
WERC brought the EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers, the water management district, developers and county officials together to discuss Harper's report last April. "It only took us an hour and a half to decide that we were going to use (Harper's) approach," says Carla Palmer, Lower West Coast Service Center director for the water management district.
Environmental regulators agreed to use Harper's methodology because "once we reviewed it, we decided this is as good as you can get in current science," says Eric Livingston, bureau chief of watershed management for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. No one had ever developed a way to measure stormwater pollution before development. "It's unprecedented," he says.
Alico Road is now expanding from two lanes to six. And the DEP has hired Harper to create the same type of study for several other municipalities in Florida. Livingston says Harper's model could become the new state standard but will be monitored closely by the DEP.
"To form this kind of consensus, I'm dumbfounded," says Harper.
IN THE NEWS
Fort Myers -- Internet marketer FindWhat.Com (Nasdaq-FWHT) has acquired San Diego-based Miva Corp., an e-commerce software supplier, for $5.5 million plus $2.5 million in debt.
Manatee/Sarasota -- Edwards Systems Technology is building a 100,000-sq.-ft. corporate office in Lakewood Ranch, a master-planned community on the Manatee/ Sarasota county line. EST, which has 170 employees, is relocating from Bradenton. The company, a subsidiary of Charlotte, N.C.-based SPX Corp., develops fire alarm and life safety systems.
Naples -- The newest Catholic university in the nation opened its doors to its first class of 100 students in September. Ave Maria University, which opened temporarily on a seven-acre campus near the Vineyards area of Naples, is building a larger campus on 750 acres in east Naples. It's scheduled to open there in 2006.
Oldsmar -- Maxxim Medical, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February, is selling its assets to New York-based Lightyear Capital, a private equity investment firm. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed and must be approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Maxxim sells surgical equipment and will keep its name and its 1,360 workers if the deal goes through.
Pasco County -- New traffic signals that can detect the amount of traffic on a road and adjust accordingly are being installed in Pasco County for use starting next month. Paid for and designed by the state Department of Transportation, the project will cost about $2 million.
Pinellas County -- The Florida Wildlife Federation has named the Pinellas County Environmental Foundation its Conservation Organization of the Year. The foundation's mission is to protect and restore fish and wildlife habitats in Tampa Bay.
Sarasota -- Wauchula-based Crews Banking Corp. bought Englewood Bank for an undisclosed amount. Englewood, with six branches and $149 million in assets, had been independent for 15 years. Crews also owns Charlotte State Bank in Port Charlotte.
St. Petersburg -- Downtown St. Petersburg may soon be the first Wi-Fi hub in the Tampa Bay area. The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership has hired Information Management Specialists, a St. Petersburg computer networking and telecommunications company, to develop Wi-Fi zones at the Pier, park areas and possibly restaurants and retail stores. Wi-Fi allows subscribers to access e-mail, the internet or company networks wherever there is a Wi-Fi hub.
Tampa -- Tampa electronics manufacturer Reptron Electronics (OTC-REPT.OB) was delisted from the Nasdaq SmallCap Market in late September for failure to meet minimum requirements. It is now traded on the Bulletin Board.
Financially struggling TECO Energy (NYSE-TE) sold 11 million shares of its common stock for $129 million to funds managed by San Mateo, Calif.-based Franklin Advisers. TECO plans to use the money to pay off short-term debt.
FBI agents raided the Tampa and Alachua offices of WebMD Medical Manager in September. The FBI is investigating the physician software company's recent acquisitions and its 1999 $5.5-million financial restatement.
Tampa Bay -- The builder of the much-anticipated $110-million desalination plant on the banks of Tampa Bay has failed to meet its latest deadline of Sept. 30. New Jersey-based Covanta faces $32,500 a day in fines and has until this month to complete the plant. Tampa Bay Water, which regulates the facility, has threatened to dump Covanta if it doesn't make the November deadline. Company executives say green mussels are clogging the filtering system and promised to have the plant running this month.
COLLIER/LEE COUNTIES -- Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and several national and southwest Florida environmental groups have petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to veto 10 wetlands development permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers. The proposed developments would destroy more than 2,000 acres of wetlands in Collier and Lee counties, the groups contend.