The island of Sanibel is just weeks from re-opening to the public, months after Ian knocked the island on its back, but the city is making sure not to promote the island as a place to visit right now.
The people who live on Sanibel know that foot traffic there will increase when the island reopens, but they are worried about how much it will increase. They hope people with bad intentions stay away.
One council member said the number of burglaries on the island went from three a year to 59 over the past 10 weeks.
Everyone wants a slice of paradise, but the paradise that is Sanibel isn’t quite ready for new guests despite the causeway opening on January 2.
“This isn’t about tourism, this is about recovery, and if we don’t recover as a community, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble as a city,” said Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith.
Recovery is chugging along. More than 1.2 million cubic yards of debris have been picked up from Sanibel, and rebuilt homes are emerging.
“Everyone’s just trying to clean up and do the best they can,” said Brad McKenzie.
McKenzie has lived on his slice of Sanibel for about four years. He even has his own honey business.
“There has to be a queen with a colony out here that survived. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have that many bees out there,” McKenzie said.
He’s figured out how to get life buzzing back on the island, but that doesn’t start with more people coming over the causeway.
“January 2 just seems a little bit quick. There’s nothing to do here,” said McKenzie.
There’s only a handful of open restaurants and businesses. Not nearly enough to support the usual tourism numbers. The beaches are closed along with the fishing pier.
Sanibel after Hurricane Ian. (Credit: WINK News)
The city isn’t trying to make this a destination. They want everything rebuilt and fast, so contractors and subcontractors don’t need a permit to get to Sanibel.
“We have to look at the greater good for the entire community,” said Smith.
“If other contractors are having problems. Sure, let’s open up for a couple hours in the morning when they’re coming over,” said McKenzie.
Then McKenzie’s answer is to close it, closing out anyone with ill intentions. “Regardless of whether people actually come on to loot, people are worried about that. So protect the people and protect what the people who live here are concerned about.”
The city council said they are confident in the police department’s ability to keep the island secure. Residents say they have the same trust in their police officers, but that only eases a little of the concern when there are still many homes out here that need a lot of work.