Pine Island residents are frustrated over the lack of services and help
About 200 people attended a Lee County civic association meeting to talk about the issues they continue to face more than two months after Hurricane Ian. While state and federal officials were there to hear them out, county officials were noticeably missing.
Being tucked away far from the gridlock, the bustle and the noise of the neighboring mainland Fort Myers has generally been a blessing for people who call Pine Island home.
But after Hurricane Ian upended so many lives on this northern Lee County barrier island close to 70 days ago, residents are growing increasingly frustrated by what they say is a lack of communication, attention and a dearth of services they believe are being provided to wealthier hurricane-battered barrier islands.
And so, at a community-wide civic association meeting this week, residents stood in a line for their chance to be heard.
They spoke about the mountains of debris still stacked along the roadway. Some spoke about how no internet service was making it difficult to be in the know or to apply for help. Others asked why county building permits were taking so long.
Many shared the difficulties in trying to obtain state and federal help among other necessities in their post-Hurricane Ian world.
Noticeably absent from this large crowd were Lee County government leaders and representatives. But there were a few surprise visitors.
“We have some people here from the government and as a surprise to me, we actually have the director of Emergency Management for the entire state … and he’s come to our meeting, tonight,” Helen Fox, the president of the Greater Pine Island Civic Association told a group of roughly 200.
For those with cable or internet service post Ian, Kevin Guthrie is a familiar face, generally standing alongside Gov. Ron DeSantis as they make their way around Hurricane- battered communities in Florida announcing various initiatives to help people out.
"We do need to start moving toward a path of getting things back and getting people back into their houses with running water and washing machines and things of that nature."Kevin Guthrie, director, Florida Division of Emergency Management
The director of the Division of Emergency Management told the crowd that he’s here for them, rest of the week and will be in and out of their lives for the next few years as the Pine Island communities rebuild.
He said there will a designated point-person from the state on Pine Island soon to help residents navigate the cumbersome steps when trying to get state and federal assistance.
“So we want to make sure you get the necessary help you need,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie explained that there are plenty of travel trailers available for qualifying residents to use as a housing for up to six months and he also spoke of the myriad of money available.
“Six months is better in a travel trailer than nothing, “ he said.
Guthrie explained about the growing pot of more than $55 million in donated money up for grabs as well as all the funding potentially available from state and federal coffers to help residents rebuild.
“We do need to start moving toward a path of getting things back and getting people back into their houses with running water and washing machines and things of that nature,” Guthrie said.
Fox was grateful for Guthrie attendance and concern: “So we’ve had a whole lot of information and I think it is pretty incredible that these state resources are out there. So thank you very much for coming and giving us this information.”
Also in attendance were people from FEMA.
All told, there were at least seven representatives from the federal and state agencies at the meeting. They stayed afterward to get phone numbers, offer guidance and answer questions.
Absent were county officials who were invited, Fox said.
“We definitely need more interaction with the county because obviously people have questions,” Fox said.
Long-time public servant Kevin Ruane, a county commissioner representing Pine Island and communities on the other barrier islands including Sanibel and Captiva, said he was not personally aware of getting invited to attend the meeting but was having his staff comb through thousands of emails.
He said he doesn’t want residents to lose hope and he’s happy to attend civic meetings if there is a particular topic members would like to have discussed. Knowing the topic head of time will allow him to bring along the proper staff, he said.
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