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Ian-Damaged Sanibel Causeway Intact Again After Crews Build Temporary Bridge

Mon October 17, 2022 - Southeast Edition #22
Fort Myers News-Press & Spectrum News 9

The Sanibel Causeway has been temporarily fixed, enabling a convoy of more than 350 trucks and trailers to bring help to the storm-battered barrier island. (Photo courtesy of Gov. Ron Desantis Twitter page)
The Sanibel Causeway has been temporarily fixed, enabling a convoy of more than 350 trucks and trailers to bring help to the storm-battered barrier island. (Photo courtesy of Gov. Ron Desantis Twitter page)

Vehicles once again began rolling across southwest Florida's Sanibel Causeway Oct. 11, just 13 days after Hurricane Ian sliced into the 3-mi.-long bridge that links the resort island to the mainland.

A convoy of more than 350 trucks and trailers bringing help to the storm-battered barrier island climbed the first span of the freshly patched connection from the mainland. At a news conference the same day, Gov. Ron DeSantis promised everyone else, including residents, will be able to do the same Oct. 21.

Spectrum News 9 in Tampa reported that among all the vehicles crossing the temporary bridge were more than 200 bucket trucks, and 150 line and pickup trucks towing 50 trailers and two tractor trailers onto the island. Along with them were additional first responders to aid in recovery efforts while final road repairs are made.

Ian broke the causeway in three places on Sept. 28, washing out chunks of the spoil islands that held up the roadbed, the Fort Myers News-Press reported.

For the first week following the storm, workers, evacuated islanders, equipment and supplies could only be delivered to the islands via air or water since the land route had been destroyed. That will continue, DeSantis said, but the addition of over-the-road transport will help a lot.

"You can only helicopter or barge so many people or so much equipment," he noted, adding that the question became: "How can we get more trucks on the island of Sanibel as soon as possible?"

Many of the trucks crossing the repaired bridge were for workers to be able to start repairing the power grids on Sanibel and its neighbor to the north, Captiva Island.

The convoy included crews from the Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC), Florida Power and Light (FPL), Duke Energy and other Florida electricity providers.

The trucks were part of a "massive logistical operation" that included hauling food, water, portable restrooms, laundry, portable showers and drone teams to survey flooded areas," said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM).

Jared Perdue, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), told the Fort Myers news source that staffers from around the state have swarmed southwest Florida, inspecting bridges and restoring traffic lights and signs. Most of the causeway work, he said, has been to fix the roadway and islands leading up to the bridge.

"The actual bridge structures, thankfully, are in good shape and have been inspected and are safe for passage," he said, "so now it's really a matter of getting the causeway rebuilt and linking everything back together."

The next step in the road rehab is its paving and road striping, Perdue said.

DeSantis also spoke about work to restore Pine Island, northeast of Sanibel, which got a temporary bridge constructed in early October.

Electric crews there are clearing debris, replacing poles and stringing new lines. Power was restored to one quarter of Pine Island by Oct. 13, including at the island's Publix and Winn-Dixie grocery stores, and at some water treatment plant substations. The week of Oct. 17 to 21 will see a third of the island and the Matlacha area back online, the governor said.

Sanibel's Electric Power to Be Back Soon

The News-Press reported Oct. 16 that LCEC officials announced several key sites on Sanibel should have their power restored Oct. 20.

"Thanks to many forces working together, the backbone of the system will be rebuilt," spokesperson Karen Ryan said in a release. Essential services like the island's school, water treatment plant, and one of its fire stations could be back online by [that date], with the other station back to full power the next weekend, she added.

"Once the critical infrastructure is rebuilt, LCEC and FPL plan to work section by section to energize the island over the next two weeks," Ryan explained. "By October 23, City Hall and public safety facilities are estimated to be in service."

Massive Effort Bringing Islands Back to Life

Saltwater, downed trees, damaged or broken poles, and an impassible causeway made the work a challenge, but several things helped speed restoration to the devastated barrier island, she said:

  • The governor's office and other agencies helped with access, line worker support and other resources.
  • A total of 500 FPL line workers were mobilized to the island the second week of October as part of the extended partnership between the company and LCEC. Support also included a generous supply of utility poles and materials, six substation electricians, and many other logistics personnel working shoulder to shoulder with LCEC employees.
  • LCEC critical infrastructure remained strong during and after the storm. After proper assessment, cleaning, analysis and testing, the transmission line and substation were energized, allowing for repairs to the backbone of the system, Ryan said, to enable homes and businesses to begin receiving power.

Sanibel Island's main transmission line was restored Oct. 14, she told the News-Press, and now that it is back on, work can begin to distribute power to the rest of the island.

Harder hit sections of Sanibel, as well as those on nearby North Captiva Island, will take longer to rebuild, Ryan said.

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