OUR POSITION: We can grouse over the details how a hurricane shelter for Charlotte County will be paid for and how and when the bill was presented in the Legislature, but the need is too great to risk losing the opportunity.
The idea of a hurricane shelter being built on high and dry Babcock Ranch is a good one. Nobody can really dispute that.
But when the idea went public there was more than a little consternation about how it came about, who knew, when they knew and where the money is coming from.
We don’t believe the details are all that important. The possibility of getting a real, Red Cross-approved hurricane shelter for Charlotte County is too urgent to sweat the small stuff.
But, for the record, we believe Charlotte County Commissioner Joe Tiseo was right to look out for taxpayers when he questioned the process of how and when the bill was filed by Rep. Mike Grant, R-Port Charlotte, and how it would be paid for. Tiseo, by the way, supports the shelter.
And, we also believe Commissioner Stephen R. Deutsch was right to say the county does not “want to close the door on (the shelter idea).”
Let’s back up a bit and look at the issue. When Hurricane Irma hit, Charlotte County had two emergency shelters that were able to stay open and accommodate about 5,000 people. Those shelters, however, were not Red Cross approved and in a more serious hurricane — with a higher storm surge — would not have been adequate.
That led to a bunch of people — estimates vary — scrambling to shelters in North Port. And, that has caused some bickering between Charlotte and Sarasota counties on how Charlotte, in the future, should/can help out with staffing and/or costs of those shelters if another hurricane forces Charlotte County residents to head north.
An agreement between the two counties is on the drawing board but there has been some foot-dragging and nothing has been approved yet. Meanwhile, Charlotte County needs a shelter that is on higher land, away from storm surge. Babcock Ranch is the perfect location.
The bill being proposed in the Legislature, according to a Sun story by Betsy Calvert, said Grant is asking for $8 million from the state and seeking another $2 million from “local” sources. The best local source would be Charlotte County government.
Babcock Ranch founder Syd Kitson will supply the land and the infrastructure. He has two incentives to do so. First, to be a good neighbor, and Babcock Ranch has always been that. Second, is to have a field-house-type facility he can use when there are no hurricanes nearby. It could host various sports events. Nothing wrong with that. Having a building sit vacant 300 or more days a year would be a waste.
Most of the hand-wringing has been about Grant and Kitson speaking with commissioners individually and maybe not mentioning the bill was being filed in Tallahassee. At least that is the information we are getting. There was some secrecy about the process that is difficult to understand.
Grant said he has no obligation to go public or seek permission from commissioners to file such a bill. He’s right. It’s just a matter of courtesy.
When all is said and done, we appreciate Grant taking the bull by the horns and trying to get his home county a hurricane shelter. We hope the bill passes and the money escapes the governor’s veto.
That would be a win-win for everyone.