Top 10 topics and people to watch in Southwest Florida in 2018

Daily News staff, Naples Daily NewsPublished 6:00 a.m. ET Jan. 6, 2018 | Updated 4:37 a.m. ET Jan. 7, 2018

A new year and a new start. As Southwest Florida says goodbye to 2017's hurricanes, brush fires and flooding, it looks ahead to a potential sales tax increase, elections and maybe off-shore drilling, among other things. 

Here are the Top 10 topics and people the Daily News staff will be watching in 2018:

Hurricane preparedness

It’s not like Southwest Florida wasn’t ready for the Big One.

Hurricane Irma made landfall in on Marco Island on Sept. 10 — 12 years after Hurricane Wilma landed in Cape Romano just south of Marco and 57 years to the day that Hurricane Donna made landfall in Naples.

But many Collier residents likely will become a bit antsy once the summer rolls around and storms begin churning again in the warm Gulf and Caribbean waters.

In many ways, some communities — Everglades City, Chokoloskee, Immokalee, East Naples and Bonita Springs — in Southwest Florida are still recovering.

What will emergency managers and government leaders do in 2018 to prepare the region for when another major hurricane hits? 

Gov. Rick Scott looks at Lue "Mama Lue" Hewett, 92, a resident of the Club Naples RV Resort during his tour Friday, March 10, 2017, of areas affected by a brush fire. The wildfire was 65 percent contained on 7,500 acres the morning of March 10. Hewett, who has spent 32 winters in the resort, thanked Scott. (Photo: Katie Klann/Naples Daily News)


Florida voters will elect a new governor, possibly a new U.S. senator and Naples City Council members, among other races.

Mid-term elections usually aren’t dull, and the 2018 mid-term elections are expected to be even more intense. So what will these important races mean for Southwest Florida? Gov. Rick Scott, who lives in Naples, is being termed out of office. Will he run for U.S. senator, and if so, will he align with President Donald Trump or break away?


Also during the November elections, Collier County will ask voters to increase the county sales tax. If approved, the county would charge a 1 percent sales tax that would sunset after seven years. The tax wouldn’t apply to food or medicine and would apply only to the first $5,000 on any large purchase, and raise an estimated $70 million a year.

However, county commissioners have yet to decide exactly how to spend the money, so the discussions and proposals coming in 2018 will be important for voters to follow.

A sign warns beachgoers about erosion at Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park (formerly known as John U. Lloyd Beach State Park) in October 2015. The state park is just south of Fort Lauderdale's beach and the Port Everglades inlet in Broward County. The park shoreline has critical erosion problems caused by the inlet's blockage of the natural north-to-south flow of sand along Florida's east coast. (Photo: David Albers/Naples Daily News)

Florida's beaches

Gov. Scott has requested a record $100 million be budgeted toward maintaining and restoring Florida's beaches, our largest asset for tourist attraction. One of the biggest champions for passing that initiative was former state Sen. Jack Latvala, who resigned from office in December after allegations of harassment.

So what will be the fate of the legislation? Will it pass, and if so, how much will be allocated and how will the state go about its efforts to restore beaches statewide?

Oil drilling

Environmentalists have been protesting a Texas-based oil company's search for oil in Big Cypress National Preserve, and the company expects to resume that search in 2018.

Meanwhile, Trump has pushed for more drilling off Florida shores. Environmentalists and some politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, have pushed back on the initiative.

Will 2018 be the year when offshore drilling is approved, with plans for rigs in sight off Sunshine State beaches? 

Barbara Gregory holds a sign that reads "Do not cancel D.A.C.A." as she joins supporters of the Collier Freedom Movement as they protest then President-elect Donald Trump along Fifth Avenue South in Naples on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. (Photo: Luke Franke/Naples Daily News, Naples Daily News)


With just a few weeks in office in 2017, Trump signed executive orders tightening immigration policies. As conversations around immigration and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) continue in Washington, what will any new laws, regulations and initiatives mean for the thousands of immigrants living in Southwest Florida?

A birds-eye view of construction along the Caloosahatchee River near the West Basin Storage Reservoir Tuesday, May 9, 2017.  (Photo: Luke Franke/Naples Daily News)

Lake Okeechobee

Coastal Florida will continue seeing algae blooms until a restoration of the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and other Everglades projects are finished.

Although the Army Corps of Engineers is roughly halfway through a $1.9 billion-dollar restoration of the dike that is scheduled to be completed in 2025, Trump announced in October that he would push for repairs to be completed closer to the target Scott has requested: 2022.

But that would require Congress to approve about $200 million each year for fiscal years 2019-22. Those would be big increases from the $81 million in Trump's proposed 2018 budget submitted last spring.

Workers watch a crew as they prepare to put up a panel during construction of the new high school in Bonita Springs, Fla., on Thursday, June 29. 2017.  Logan Newell/Special to the Naples Daily News

Bonita Springs High School

Teens in Bonita Springs have been bused to Estero High School or other schools farther north for years after graduating from Bonita Springs Middle and Charter Schools.

Now, Bonita Springs High School is well under construction, and the Bonita Springs Bull Sharks Class of 2020 is already halfway through its first year in portable classrooms on the Estero High campus.

Students will walk the halls of the new building in August. Last March, the project was $14.9 million over budget, and in September, the Lee County School Board voted to increase the school's budget by $13.9 million to finish construction.

Will the project remain within that budget through completion, and what will the first day of school bring for the first Bonita Springs High School students?

Andy Hyde

A Naples caterer, Hyde arrived in Florida via Ghana and Germany. He is making a name for himself in the food world, has been featured as a top chef on local magazine covers and served as a featured chef at the Paradise Coast Food and Wine Experience in Naples last November.

The self-proclaimed “wild child” is big on social media too, so what’s next for him? Maybe his own TV cooking show?

Bruce Barone Jr., shown Monday, Dec. 18, 2017, will oversee the business and promotion of one of the wealthiest areas in Southwest Florida in his first year as executive director of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District in Naples. 

Bruce Barone Jr.

Barone will oversee the business and promotion of one of the wealthiest areas in Southwest Florida in his first year as executive director of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District in Naples.

A proposal for the city to buy land and build a new parking garage near Fifth Avenue could be revisited in 2018.