Naples city manager: A lot done, more to do in recovery from Ian

Naples has come a long way since Hurricane Ian.

While much progress has been made on the recovery front, there's still a lot of work to do – and it will take time and patience.

That's one of the key messages city manager Jay Boodheshwar conveyed at a City Council workshop on Friday.

In an update on Ian, he shared information on everything from the state of debris cleanup to the status of plans to rebuild the iconic Naples Pier.

While the city has provided biweekly updates to the community through email and postings on its website, Boodheshwar hadn't shared an in-person one with City Council – or the public – in a while. He had a lot to cover.

His in-depth presentation included an update on damage to structures in the city: 1,937 saw minor damage, 708 suffered major damage and 22 got destroyed.

As of Jan. 18, the city had 1,119 Ian-related permits issued or in queue. That included 97 demolition permits, 94 of them for single-family homes.

While the number of demolition permits might seem staggering to some, Boodheshwar said it's not as much as feared and it "could have been much worse," considering the severity of flooding in Naples from Ian's unprecedented storm surge.

Ian, he said, will require "a massive restoration effort."

"We will be a pretty large construction zone for quite some time," Boodheshwar said.

Jay Boodheshwar, Naples city manager
Jay Boodheshwar, Naples city manager

Earlier:Damages to buildings, homes and businesses estimated at more than $1.5 billion in Naples

More:What will season look like in Southwest Florida? Differing experiences in Ian's aftermath

Damage estimates for city property have continued to climb, with more than 300 public assets now classified as harmed or destroyed. Estimates now top $26 million.

That includes structures, vehicles and equipment impacted by the storm, but not expenses to fortify the pier or to repair or replace seawalls, so the financial cost will be much higher to the city, potentially in excess of $30 million, Boodheshwar said.

Rebuilding the pier bigger and better will cost more than replacing it to pre-Ian conditions.  Early estimates are approximately $15 million to $16 million.

"The good news is we are fiscally sound," Boodheshwar said.

The city has money in reserves, but it also expects to receive significant dollars from FEMA and its insurers to help it recover and rebuild.

City is nearly free of debris from Ian

When it comes to debris cleanup, the city is "99.9% there."

Debris lays along Gulf Shore Drive in North Naples on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022.
Debris lays along Gulf Shore Drive in North Naples on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022.

In the city, clean-up crews collected 303,000 cubic yards of debris from Ian, or more than 5,800 truck loads. That included 201,000 cubic yards of construction and demolition materials, from drywall and cabinets to furniture and clothing.

"The focus now is on the waterways," Boodheshwar said. "The state is taking the lead."

In partnership with the state and Collier County, the city has identified what's believed to be all the submerged vehicles, sunk by Ian, in its waterways, including cars and boats. Removal has begun, but there's no timeline yet on how long it might take to complete the job.

"Of course, there is other types of debris that's in the water," Boodheshwar said. "Some are known, and a lot are unknown."

Since Ian hit, the city has put a lot of time and effort into getting its beach access points reopened, with safety as its top priority.

Boodheshwar provided a list of 16 that had already reopened – and a list of others opening soon. The soon-to-open locations are:

  • Lowdermilk Park

  • First Avenue South

  • Fourth Avenue South

  • Sixth Avenue South

  • Seventh Avenue South

  • Eighth Avenue South

  • 11th Avenue South

The aim is to get them all open by the end of this week.

While Lowdermilk Park took a heavy beating and it will take some time to rebuild and repair the structures, Boodheshwar said the city is eager to get it open because it can "hold a lot of cars," which will help ease stress on other beach parking areas in the city.

The Eighth Avenue access, he said, has been another big focus because it's such a popular spot for marriage ceremonies in the city, earning it the nickname "Wedding Beach." Once it reopens, the city will start issuing permits for beach weddings again – but at that location only, for now.

"The bottom line motivator in the decisions we make is to make sure the people we serve are safe," Boodheshwar said.

Even though beaches have been raked many times since the storm, he's still recommending that beachgoers wear shoes "because we don't know what we can't see."

"From time to time, we see some new debris," he said.

Street ends at the beach must be rebuilt

Nine beach ends – or street ends at the shoreline – saw significant structural damage to the asphalt, so they remain closed, for the foreseeable future.

"We can't have cars on the street. The roads have been undermined," Boodheshwar said.

Those beach ends are located at: Via Miramar, Third Avenue South, Sixth Avenue South, Ninth Avenue South, 10th Avenue South, 15th Avenue South, 16th Avenue South, 17th Avenue South and 33rd Avenue South.

The city plans to hire a consultant to determine the extent of the damage and the needed repairs to get them back to their pre-Ian state, "if not better," Boodheshwar said. The process, he said, will take time to ensure the city complies with the Federal Emergency Management Agency's playbook, so it doesn't jeopardize federal funding for the rebuilding.

He discussed the impact of Collier County's plans to build an emergency berm – or sand dune of sorts – on beaches countywide, as a temporary measure to protect upland property from the next big storm, until beaches can be restored. There's a short window to get it done, to avoid turtle nesting season and ensure funding from FEMA, with an estimated cost of more than $20 million.

Four beach access locations have been chosen for receiving truck hauls of sand in the city: Lowdermilk, Horizon Way, 10th Avenue South and 17th Avenue South.

The county expects to hire a contractor by mid- to late February and anticipates the project will take 12 weeks to complete.

The city will put out a map showing the truck routes, so the public can be more aware of what to expect, Boodheshwar said, warning that the project will be big and "invasive."

Naples Pier will take "some time" to rebuild

When it comes to the Naples Pier, the city manager stressed that he really needed to "set expectations."

While part of the pier is open, it's going to take "some time" to rebuild, with the need to once again follow the FEMA playbook, so the city doesn't lose out on millions of dollars in FEMA funding, including money for "mitigation," Boodheshwar said.

"And by mitigation, we mean elevating and having a more robust structure that can withstand the next Ian, or something else," he said.

Hurricane Ian made for rough seas at the Naples Pier on Sept. 28, 2022.
Hurricane Ian made for rough seas at the Naples Pier on Sept. 28, 2022.

The city is seeking architects and engineers to design the new pier and hopes to have a building contractor chosen and ready to go before the design is even finalized.

It's important to move ahead as quickly as possible, not just because of the pier's sentimental value, but it's economic one as a popular draw for tourists, to the city and county, Boodheshwar said.

Permitting for the new pier will take time, but the city hopes state leaders can help expedite it, with talks under way, he said.

Community input will be sought in the design.

"We are going to get feedback," Boodheshwar said. "We are already getting feedback unsolicited."

One unsolicited proposal: Put coin-operated slides at the end of the pier "to make some money."

"I like the creativity," Boodheshwar said.

At the earliest, construction is not expected to begin until late this year.

He concluded his presentation by discussing plans to develop an after-action report to identify the city's successes and failures in dealing with Ian.

The end goal is "improving future performances."

Results from a community survey about the city's response to the storm will be incorporated in the report.

After more than 600 residents and businesses offered their feedback, Boodheshwar described the participation as "tremendous." The survey ends today.

Eager to see the replies, Boodheshwar said he'd already peeked at some of them and they were "very constructive," and "very helpful."

This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Naples updates damage counts and rebuilding efforts from Hurricane Ian