By Noelle H. Lowery
The Marco Island City Council is concerned about the city’s level of influence at the county level. The reason: It has been suggested that the Collier Board of County Commissioners may combine its Tourist Development Council and Coastal Advisory Commission into one entity with the hope that it will curb an overgrowth of county-based advisory boards and committees.
City Councilors believe this move would spell disaster for Marco Island’s representation and clout when it comes to county decisions on beaches in the area. “My issue here is it reinforces that the City of Marco Island has virtually no influence with the BCC,” City Councilor Larry Sacher said during a discussion on the topic at last week’s City Council meeting. “It has been years since we have had an opportunity to visit with the BCC. Marco Island is seven percent of the population of the county and 23 percent of the tax revenue…We are a non-entity to them other than keep sending them the money.”
As such, councilors agreed at last week’s meeting that the city — by way of Chairman Joe Batte — will send a letter to BCC Chairwoman Georgia Hiller urging her and the commission to keep the TDC and CAC separate. Naples Mayor John Sorey, who holds positions on both boards, has agreed to send a similar letter.
Currently, Marco Island has two representatives on the TDC, Councilor Sacher and Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort & Spa General Manager Rick Medwedeff. It also has three seats on the CAC, which now are filled by City Councilor Larry Honig and residents Victor Rios and Debbie Roddy. Roddy also serves as the chair of the city’s Beach Advisory Committee. It is anybody’s guess how Marco Island will be represented if the two entities are combined.
To be sure, the present mix of designees has been beneficial for Marco Island in some cases. Take the current improvements Collier County is making at Tigertail Beach. Also during last week’s meeting, Marco Island Zoning Administrator Joe Irvin and City Planning Board Member Dr. Bill Trotter updated councilors on the cooperative effort between the city and Collier County Parks and Recreation to improve a number of issues at Tigertail Beach.
Tigertail is getting a new restroom facility at the southern end of its parking lot. New directional and informational signs also are being posted on and off Marco Island, as well as new signage clearing depicting the two distinct areas of the park and the quickest route to the gulf-access beach. The city has received a new vegetation maintenance schedule from the county, and county officials are considering the sale of long-term county beach passes at Tigertail’s main gate. In Spring 2014, Tigertail’s 260-space parking facility will get a $100,000 facelift, complete with compressed materials and a brick border. According to Irvin, the county already has allocated the funding.
While Trotter told city councilors that it has been “encouraging at this point that the county is trying to work with (Marco Island) at least in the constraints of (its) current budget,” he also warned that it was clear the city “will need to look at a policy level for communication between council and BCC.”
Combining the TDC and CAC would not be good communication policy for Marco Island, especially if the city — with the help of the CAC — wants to push a new North Beach renourishment project through the county’s Coastal Zone Management Department. Councilor Honig presented the case during the recent council meeting.
According to Honig, it is no secret to island residents that the laser-grading of North Beach is not working. Instead, it is leaving the beach with a negative grade in some areas, which causes water to collect and pool on the beach. This is bad news for tourists, who do not want to stroll through the muck, and sea turtles, who cannot nest on the beach because the underlying water table is too high.
While the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has said no new sand can be added to the beach, the CAC is proposing that beach sand from the water’s edge be “mined” and “redistributed” on the beach to create a positive slope from the landward side of the beach down to the water. Honig reported the two-year project would reduce the width of North Beach by a range of 50-100 feet. It also would carry an estimated price tag of $3 million to $4 million.
“The width of the beach is in excess of 1,000 feet in some place,” noted Councilor Bob Brown. “I think this will be very helpful.”
Still, city councilors agree that this project and others like it proposed for Marco Island will get nowhere fast if the county successfully combines the TDC and CAC. Sacher believes Marco Island must go beyond just sending a letter of decent to the BCC.
“At the end of the day, I am trying to push council,” Sacher said in an interview after the council meeting. “I think Marco Island needs to request an opportunity to get to the table with the BCC and do whatever we can do. We’ve got to stop just being a cashbox for the county.”
“I look at it from the bigger picture standpoint,” he added. “Marco Island is not being heard and does not have a voice.”