In the August 23rd primary election all Charlotte County voters – including more than 35,000 Democrats and 43,000 Independent voters – will have the opportunity to choose the next County Commissioners representing Districts 2 and 4.
In an effort to inform the voters of the candidates’ positions on critical issues, Charlotte County Democrats asked all six candidates to answer the following questions. District 2 candidate Jaha Cummings’ responses appear below:
- Clean and healthy water is an essential feature of our community. But Mosaic’s threat of mining upriver, antiquated and unrepaired septic systems, and pollutants that result from increased development each threaten the water quality in the Peace and Myakka Rivers, Charlotte Harbor, and the surrounding waters. What would you do as Commissioner to resolve existing problems with waste treatment in old and new housing, and the looming issue of phosphate mining?
In regard to these issues, what we can do locally is to use our regulatory powers and professional relationships to reduce the amount of nutrients in the water. I have spoken to state leadership about creating a regional sewer infrastructure in the same way that we have a regional water authority (Peace River Manasota Water Authority) to ensure that every residential property along a body of water which drains into the Peace and Myakka Rivers, Charlotte Harbor Bay, and the surrounding water is converted from septic-to-sewer. In doing so, it would have bond borrowing powers based on sewer subscribers for repayment, so that the cost on septic-to-sewer conversion to individual homeowners could be significantly reduced.
I would also create a much stronger relationship with the University of Florida Extension Service to do extensive public outreach about promoting the planting of Florida-friendly grasses and plants, as well as trees to restore wetlands.
In May, as Treasurer of the Southwest Florida Regional Council (SWFRPC), one of my accomplishments was to have our board approve submitting a $4M state grant to protect water quality in Charlotte Harbor. As a Commissioner, I would remain in my role as Treasurer of the SWFRPC and continue to promote the interests of our county and region’s environment.
I would also continue in my role as Representative to SWFL Regional Resiliency Coalition, organized by the FGCU Water School, specifically to protect against sea level and other environmental challenges facing our region.
Lastly, I would continue to use my elected role and community radio show (Tri-County Hour), currently in its third year, to bring solutions to problems facing our residents through my radio show interviews (57 episodes to date). Recognizing the need to have solutions on-hand ahead of potential blue-green algae and red tide blooms this summer, I sought out companies which had proven solutions to both to bring to Charlotte County:
- Blue Green Water Technologies: The CEO came to Charlotte County and introduced his company to both the County and City of Punta Gorda. This is the company that stopped the blue-green algal bloom of the C43 canal and has statewide Florida DEP approval. This solution is a form of powderized hydrogen peroxide that causes the blue-green algae (and red tide) to oxidize, which both kills the bacteria and eliminates the toxin. This solution also sequesters carbon. DEP has purchased a large supply of this solution, so in the event of a large bloom, our community has the ability to quickly mitigate these blooms.
- Aguaculture Technologies: This company has a machine called “GreenMach One” which sits on a floating barge that vacuums up invasive species such as water hyacinth, grinds them up and pipes the resulting liquid to agricultural land where it is used as a natural method of restoring nutrients to the soil without using chemicals.
For more information on these solutions, you can listen to the full interviews from the radio show via the following links:
Blue Green Water Technologies: https://www.tricountyhour.com/2022/old-punta-gorda-7tx83
AguaCulture Technologies: https://www.tricountyhour.com/2022/aguaculture-technologies
- Development is at an all-time high in a county where rapid growth is nothing new. Often residents see problems arising in their locales before public officials react. Residents of the Burnt Store corridor and Englewood are alarmed at proposed developments in their community. Likewise, daily commuters on US 41 and SR 776 in northeast Port Charlotte are dreading additional traffic snarls caused by West Port and other developments. This is true countywide. What will you do to answer these concerns, now and going forward?
With robust planning, many of these challenges that we are facing can be mitigated in advance. By State Statute, every county in the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council (SWFRPC) area (Charlotte, Sarasota, Lee, Glades, Hendry, Collier) has to belong to the RPC because of the state’s recognition of the importance of regional planning. Unfortunately, our county does not actively participate in the organization despite having large development projects of regional significance for which through the SWFRPC planning can be coordinated between cities and counties, i.e., West Port (Charlotte and Sarasota Counties), Babcock Ranch (Charlotte and Lee Counties), Burnt Store Road Developments (Charlotte and Lee Counties). I am committed to comprehensive planning in which we plan for growth with a minimum 20-year view horizon and done in collaboration with our neighboring communities.
Specifically regarding US41 and SR776, as a member of the Florida Department of Transportation Florida Freight Advisory Committee, which advises the State on its truck, rail, air, and sea freight policy, I discuss long-term regional growth planning with the state officials. I have already begun dialogue with FDOT staff on the possibility of an additional bridge across the Peace River to take the pressure off the two US41 bridges, and on the possibility of either an additional bridge over the Myakka River or an additional lane on the existing bridge.
- Speaking of growth, Babcock Ranch is becoming a major population center in Charlotte County. How do you propose to ensure it has all necessary vital services, and how will you seek to integrate this community into Charlotte County so we might all benefit from its vibrant, forward-looking nature, while ensuring its geographic location in our southeast corner doesn’t make it a de facto part of Lee County?
There are several things that can be done in this regard:
In the future, if landowners along Bermont Road to SR31 desired to have their properties rezoned to residential zoning, and the County were to do so, it would create a residential corridor close to Babcock Ranch. Along these lines, Bermont Road could be widened which would provide much a safer driving experience as well as be prepared to accommodate for residential growth in the future.
- Additionally, if Babcock Ranch were to be provided with the option to have ECAP (Enterprise Charlotte Airport Park) zoning and all the entitlements that this entails, Charlotte County could grow people-centered technology businesses in Babcock Ranch that would be directly integrated into Charlotte County.
- I also see an opportunity in promoting Babcock Ranch as a new town center and outdoor recreational option for locals. As Vice-Chair of the Charlotte County Tourism Board (TDC), I will work with our award-winning staff to create a campaign to promote Babcock Ranch to Charlotte County residents in addition to the work we do to promote Babcock Ranch to our visitors.
- Babcock Ranch has a large fieldhouse that is also intended to be used as a hurricane shelter. Many of us have lived through a major hurricane. Some, more than one. We understand that threat all too well, and see an increased year ‘round population with insufficient places to shelter locally or routes to evacuate. A hurricane could hit anytime. How will you address this situation to ensure the safety of Charlotte County residents?
As a Florida native, I grew up with hurricane preparedness as part of our way of life. The County can promote a robust public information campaign on the shelter at Babcock Ranch as being Charlotte County’s first Red Cross approved hurricane shelter (being 30 feet above sea level), as well as how to access it from both SR31 and I-75. The County can provide yearly hurricane preparation information through grocery stores, drug stores, HOAs, condo associations, mobile parks, independent living and ALFs, civic associations, and other resident organizations in order to ensure that both new and old residents have updated information on hurricane preparedness and evacuation routes before each year’s hurricane season.
- Charlotte County hospitals rank, for the most part, on the lower end of the ratings spectrum. However, the nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals that we share neighborhoods with are working harder, under tougher conditions, and getting less respect. Most of your constituents are seniors and, maybe more than anything, we need top quality healthcare to be the norm in Charlotte County. Explain how you, as a commissioner, will lead this effort.
As a Trustee of a local hospital, I know the challenges in recruiting to our area. I feel that an important factor in improving health care in our county is in recruiting more healthcare workers so that our healthcare workers are not strained and overworked. There are three areas that we can focus on as a County which will have a tangible positive impact on our ability to attract more healthcare workers:
- One is for Charlotte County to become an Age-Friendly Community. “Age-Friendly Communities” as described by AARP, are communities that accommodate the needs of the entire community from older to younger residents. There is a planning concept called “8 to 80” where it is acknowledged that the same environment that an 80-year-old needs is the same environment that an 8-year-old needs, and in planning our built-out-environment to accommodate our children and our elders, we meet the needs of the entire community. In an Age-Friendly Community, a new hire can see how it is possible for them to raise a family, retire, and age-in-place in Charlotte County.
Age-Friendly Communities are discussed in this interview on my radio show: https://www.tricountyhour.com/2022/kathy-black
- Two, creating social activities for younger professionals to have access to when not working. On one hand, younger professionals, for which we need for healthcare and other services that our Seniors require, see the opportunity in our area, but they do not see enough social outlets for them to feel that they can have a good work-life balance in our community. Along these same lines, they also recognize the lack of enrichment activities in our community for children. In this regard, the $480,800 grant that I wrote and has been awarded by the Florida Department of State to preserve and relocate the Jean Cleveland House to be used as an expansion of the Blanchard House Museum will help fill this gap in children’s programming. The expansion will be the Youth Museum and Cultural Heritage Center of Southwest Florida, the State’s first cultural heritage center. Charlotte County has not had a youth museum for many years.
- Three, Charlotte County can provide Charlotte County public schools with needed support. Many young professionals base their job choices on the image of the local schools. Our school system has jumped significantly in state rankings, and we can support this positive trajectory through coordinating Charlotte County’s strategic planning with that of the school system, so that our community’s needs are fully met.
- Health care professionals, teachers, emergency response personnel, and essential workers such as waiters and cashiers cannot afford to live in Charlotte County. How will you address the affordable housing crisis in our local communities?
Ultimately, the shortage of affordable housing is a local responsibility. This is because local government decides zoning and density. My most recent radio show interview was about how we can tangibly address our community’s lack of affordable housing. We had an in-depth conversation about the roots of our community’s lack of attainable and affordable housing for our seniors, workforce, and veterans. We discussed the need for long-term community planning, and the importance of local government to making planning decisions based on a 20-to-50-year view horizon, as well as the reality that the same housing stock needed by working families is the very same housing stock needed by downsizing seniors and veterans.
A lack of affordable housing for our workforce directly translates into a lack of affordable housing for our seniors and veterans. As such, it is critical that we make affordable and attainable housing an issue of upmost importance for our local government to address. Charlotte County is one of the rare places that can comprehensively address its lack of attainable housing, if it makes this a priority and exercises its will to do so. Charlotte County has thousands of buildable platted lots, therefore, with a purposeful will, the county can create areas (neighborhoods) in which people live in housing that they can afford near the amenities that their families desire and require.
I discussed this recently on my radio show: https://www.tricountyhour.com/2022/denise-dull
Thank you for the opportunity to provide answers to these questions.