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February 25,2019 - Rep. Grant seeks $8M for regional hurricane shelter at Babcock Ranch
yoursun.com

Monday, February 25, 2019

NOT ENOUGH SHELTER HERE

By ANDREA PRAEGITZER / ASSISTANT EDITOR

There are no certified Red Cross hurricane shelters in Charlotte County, but a bill filed this month in the Florida House of Representatives could change that.

The bill, HB 3139, from Rep. Mike Grant (R-Port Charlotte) seeks $8 million from the state to design and build a Southwest Florida Regional Emergency Shelter at Babcock Ranch.

“There is a lot of moving parts,” Grant said about the likelihood the funding request will be successful this year. He noted it is “a big ask” but there are o! ther state leaders in the Florida House and Senate interested in such a shelter being built, because they represent parts of the region that could benefit from it.

The emerging solar-powered community on the county line with Lee is more inland than Charlotte’s coastal areas including Punta Gorda.

There is a huge need for this shelter, according to the Appropriation Request, which notes it could also serve DeSoto, Hendry and Lee counties among others. Out of all regions in the state, the southwest Florida region is the only one with a shelter space deficit exceeding 50,000 spaces for people.

Even though the state’s deficit of hurricane evacuation shelter space has been eliminated on an overall statewide basis, deficits persist in some individual regions like Southwest Florida, which has the most.

Florida uses the “Ameri! can Red Cross Standards for Hurricane Evacuation Shelter Selection” as the minimum for facilities to be considered safe for hurricane evacuation shelters. Things like elevation and flood zones are a part of that.

“Currently the SW Florida region has a shelter capacity deficit of 122,948 spaces for general purpose shelters and 8,586 spaces for special needs evacuees,” states the request.

“The 2018 statewide emergency shelter plan clearly identifies Southwest Florida as a region with an extreme deficit of shelter capacity.” — Appropriations Request for Southwest Florida Regional Emergency Shelter.

Out of all regions in the state, the southwest Florida region, including Charlotte and Sarasota counties, is the only one with a general population shelter space deficit exceeding 50,000 spaces. The deficit is also greatest in the region for special needs shelters with more than 5,000 space deficits.

“Construction of the regional shelter will reduce this deficit by no less than 75,000.”

The Southwest Florida shelter capacity deficit involves Charlotte, Sarasota, Lee and Collier counties, according to the 2018 Statewide Emergency Shelter Plan from the Florida Department of Emergency Management.

Glades and Hendry counties, which are also in the Southwest Florida zone, have some shelter space surpluses, according to the department.

In Charlotte County, the deficit and demand for shelter space are matched. During Hurricane Irma in 2017, many ! Charlotte County residents who fled their homes seeking shelter ended up in Sarasota County shelters. During that storm 54 of Florida’s 67 counties ordered evacuations including within Charlotte County and about 200,000 people sheltered across the state.

The cost to design and build the shelter at Babcock is expected to be in the tens of millions. For fiscal year 2019-2020, the tab is projected at $19.7 million.

The request notes $2 million from federal sources, $2 million from local sources and $7.7 million from other sources.

If the bill passes, another funding request to the state could be filed next year for $3-5 million, the request notes.

Kitson and Partners, which is building Babcock Ranch, would donate land, along with “construction of all necessary infrastructure.”

Florida Power & Light would commit $3 million to develop the site, states the request that doesn’t include a specific timeline.

Babcock Ranch, which is an independent special district owned and developed by Kitson & Partners, would receive the funding.

Babcock spokesperson Lisa Hall said the shelter’s location would be near a soon-to-bebuilt main entrance thoroughfare south of the current main entrance off Highway 31. It would be in a commercial and mixed-use part of Babcock that has not yet been built up.

Buildings at Babcock, including all homes, are built to withstand 145 mph winds, and so the shelter is intended for people living elsewhere in evacuation and flood zones, Hall said.

“At 30 feet above sea level we are also beyon! d the reach of storm surge — and we are also not building in flood zones,” she added.

Babcock’s first resident moved in over a year ago, and when it’s all built, a population of 50,000 is expected.

Charlotte County’s former economic development director, Lucienne Pears, who is now vice president of economic and business development at Babcock Ranch, requested the funding for this project.

The request filed by Grant comes through Kitson & Partners and Babcock Ranch in partnership with Charlotte County, records show.

The Charlotte County Commission sees an “immense need for a shelter to serve local residents and has made this one of their top legislative priorities,” according to the request.

The Legislature will also be faced this year with requests for funding to help with reconstruction efforts in the Panhandle from the last hurricane season, involving counties that may not have the wherewithal to recover on their own, Grant noted, in the same way that Charlotte County needed help after Hurricane Charley.

“It’s hard to say what will happen,” Grant said about the bill. “Hopefully we’ll get some funding even over a few years.”

The Legislature convenes March 5.

Email: Andrea.Praegitzer@yoursun.com