Gov. DeSantis announces $16.8M to Bonita Springs for stormwater infrastructure project

Florida

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis was in southwest Florida Wednesday morning with the secretary of the Department of Economic Opportunity to announce a community development block grant award to handle stormwater infrastructure in Bonita Springs.

The governor announced $16.8 million would be used to improve 2.5 miles of stormwater infrastructure along Terry Street, to repair damage caused by Hurricane Irma in September 2017.

“These improvements with this money will help reduce future flood damage and ensure first responders can access residents in need during a storm,” DeSantis said. “It will make sure the health of the Imperial River here in Bonita Springs does not severely degrade after a storm. Additionally, this funding will help create a safe multi-use pass, connecting residents with schools, churches and community areas.”

The announcement came a day after the governor opened the 2022 legislative session in Tallahassee.

“This is just one of many things that we’re going to be doing,” DeSantis said. “We have other stuff that we’re going to be able to do over the coming weeks, and then we just kicked off Florida’s 2022 legislative session. There’s a lot of things on the agenda, but one of the things that I think is really exciting is if you look at the fiscal outlook for the state of Florida, we may have never been in a better position in terms of the amount of surplus revenue. If you look at unallocated general revenue, our budget stabilization fund, all these other things, we’re in a position where we’re going to be able to meet needs like this, and one of the ways we’re going to do that is through continued funding of the Job Growth Grant Fund, that we’ve been using in the state of Florida.”

DeSantis highlighted how at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, he’d had to veto the fund while the state checked out how the budget would work out during the pandemic. In 2021, the fund was brought back to active use, providing funding for job training programs and infrastructure developments across the state.

The governor said people were able to apply for grants and make an impact immediately through use of the Job Growth Grant Fund, when applications are approved. DeSantis said the state would be seeking to increase the budget for the fund to $100 million in this year’s legislative session to further the “high impacts” of how the fund has been used so far.

“There’s different things that different communities do,” DeSantis said. “Some of them have an ability to do certain things, some of them can do most of it but maybe need us to come in to help to get them over the hump, so there’s been a whole range of ways we’ve been able to make a huge huge difference.”

DeSantis said the fund would be a priority during the current legislative session, and that the state would be focusing on infrastructure as well, such as storm resiliency, plus roads and bridges. He said they were looking forward to having “a good couple of months” in Tallahassee during the session.

Dane Eagle, the Secretary of the DEO spoke next.

“At DEO we have the Office of Long-Term Resiliency. We come and we look for the areas of last resort that really need the assistance to be rebuilt from storms. If you look at Hurricane Irma, that was in 2017,” Eagle said. “I was at the EOC with many of the people behind us riding out the storm. We come out the other side and Bonita Springs was one of the harder hit areas when it comes to flooding. Feet of water standing for weeks.”

Eagle said the award for stormwater infrastructure would help Bonita Springs complete the repair project, and said they were looking forward to helping with similar projects across the state in coming weeks.

DeSantis introduced Ray Sandelli, a County Commissioner, who thanked and welcomed the governor and Eagle to the area, as well as offering praise and support for local emergency responders and law enforcement.

Dane Eagle, the Secretary of the DEO spoke next.

“At DEO we have the Office of Long-Term Resiliency. We come and we look for the areas of last resort that really need the assistance to be rebuilt from storms. If you look at Hurricane Irma, that was in 2017,” Eagle said. “I was at the EOC with many of the people behind us riding out the storm. We come out the other side and Bonita Springs was one of the harder hit areas when it comes to flooding. Feet of water standing for weeks.”

Eagle said the award for stormwater infrastructure would help Bonita Springs complete the repair project, and said they were looking forward to helping with similar projects across the state in coming weeks.

DeSantis introduced Ray Sandelli, a Lee County Commissioner, who thanked and welcomed the governor and Eagle to the area, as well as offering praise and support for local emergency responders and law enforcement.

Sandelli recounted how he and his wife had lived through “the wrath of Irma,” and how it hurt local infrastructure.

“The 1.5 miles from Old 41 to the roundabout is done,” Sandelli said. “This is the second phase, the 2.5 miles, and as I try to, when I talk to people, it takes patience, it takes time, and it takes money to get these things done. So we’re appreciative for everyone’s work on this.”

Sandelli thanked the city for the $1.5 million they contributed from the general fund to go toward repairs too, then again thanked the governor for the assistance from the state funding.

DeSantis came back to the podium, again promising more projects to be announced in the near future, and highlighted how happy people moving to Florida were once they arrived in the state. Then he took questions.

Answering a question on the current surge of the omicron variant of COVID-19, DeSantis said the state, particularly Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo, would be continuing their symptoms-based approach to handling COVID-19.

“We don’t want to send healthy people home,” DeSantis said. “You know it’s interesting, there’s parts of the country where they fired a lot of nurses because they didn’t do the shots or whatever and now they’re short-handed. They’re actually bringing back COVID positive nurses to work, when you had some who are not COVID positive and likely have had COVID, you know they actually, they got fired and so that’s…We’ve provided protections, we’ll see what the Supreme Court does on CMS, but we thought that was very important to have all hands on deck to make sure you’re not short-staffed.”

DeSantis also talked about the shelf-life of COVID tests, after the state confirmed last week that almost one million test kits had expired.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration had extended the shelf-life of tests to 15 months, but DeSantis said the tests that had expired were a different type, and that while the FDA had extended the use time by three months, demand for them had been low during that period.

DeSantis said that the Florida Department of Emergency Management sources additional tests upon request, and that after the most recent expiration, which he said was in December, the state had not received an answer from the FDA regarding usability of the kits.

Now, DeSantis said the tests were not at-home test kits, and they can’t be sent to people’s homes, amid the state’s new guidance on testing needs. The guidelines now prioritize testing higher risk patients, rather than mass testing. Tests will still be sourced on an as-needed, as-requested basis. The tests would need to be performed at test centers or county health departments. The governor did say the state had been able to procure at-home tests that were new, but questioned the potential accuracy regarding test results and the omicron variant, specifically.

Regarding testing demand, DeSantis said there was higher demand now than there had been previously. He criticized the federal government over testing issues, but shifted the focus to the new testing guidance in the state to address testing needs.

“At this point, we have a lot of promises that were made by the federal government on these tests, and our testing guidelines, that the surgeon general put on, I think are very sensible,” DeSantis said. “I think that’s where everyone will ultimately end up. You know when we do these things, we’ll get criticized.”

He pointed to the decision to have students in school in person, then the state monoclonal antibody efforts, and now testing guidance changes, as the state being ahead of the curve for the rest of the country.

“We say focus on symptoms, and focus on people that are high risk, I think if you do that, you’re going to then be able to have very easy access,” DeSantis said. “I think that’s where they’ll ultimately end up. I think what they’re doing right now is just not sustainable to be doing this.”

Instead, DeSantis said the state would continue prioritizing the elderly population and those at high-risk with other medical conditions and who may be immunocompromised. The governor criticized the mass testing happening across the country and the effect on travel, as well as saying the government should have increased production on treatments, rather than testing kit production.

He reiterated his previous commentary on the decision by the federal government to question the efficacy of monoclonal antibody treatments for the omicron variant specifically, and that the state had stayed its course on prioritizing treatment. DeSantis said someone from out of state had thanked him for the treatment information, who had reportedly told him that until DeSantis’ news conferences on the treatment option, many had not know it existed, let alone that it was available.

DeSantis also said that as far as seasonal surges of COVID-19 infections, pointing to the “huge wave” of infections in the northeast.

“They had the opportunity to prepare for it, I’m not sure what they did, but now to be able to do that, to have that, we don’t know what’ll happen in the spring or next summer, that’s a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned” DeSantis said. “We, we will do some of this on our own, if these companies will be able to deal directly with the state of Florida. They all have exclusive deals with the feds, and I understand that, but we would like to do it ourselves if we can.”

Answering a question on a recent piece of legislation filed in Florida that would ban abortions after 15 weeks, DeSantis said he was supportive of it, then ended the news conference.

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