Esteemed Marco Island attorney and historian Craig Woodward is seeking re-election as a Trustee for Lee County Electric Co-op (LCEC) District 1—covering Marco, Goodland and Everglades City. Voting closes at the end of the month.
Even though Woodward is running unopposed, he encourages people to vote.
“Everybody who pays an LCEC bill is a member—they get a ballot,” Craig Woodward said. “There are 10 trustees from different parts of the area. We serve all the way up to Cape Coral and Sanibel, Captiva, Lehigh Acres and Immokalee, Ave Maria, Everglades City, Goodland. Every year, three of the trustees get elected. I’m on the ballot. I was first elected in 2018. An important part of being a Co-op member is voting as well as receiving equity distributions.”
Woodward has played a major role in the development of Marco Island. He moved to the island with his family in 1968. His father was an attorney and his mother a schoolteacher.
After graduating from Naples High School in 1974, Woodward attended the University of Florida where he received a Bachelor’s Degree and Juris Doctor Degree. He returned from UF and joined his father’s law firm—now, celebrating 50 years, and the longest-running law firm in Collier County.
“We grew up in Old Marco and my father was the attorney for North Marco Utilities,” Woodward said. “In fact, that was one of the oldest file numbers we have, file number 149. So, we had only 148 clients before that.
North Marco Utilities was formed in 1971. Everybody previously was on septic, so they could not build condos or expand commercial. Old Marco was outside of the Deltona area of the island so the developer of Model Village, on the corner of Palm and Bald Eagle, the Snook Inn, Old Marco Inn, Ville de Marco, etc. started North Marco Utilities and got people to invest in it. It was all people in Old Marco.”
Today Woodward presides over North Marco Utilities.
“I’m president and I’m the only employee,” Woodward said with a laugh. “We hire Prout Plumbing to do our technical work while my law firm is contracted to do the billing. Our franchised area covers everything in Old Marco—including Pier 81. The residential, the condos; all the restaurants. Shortly after 2000, we rebuilt the system and added residential to it. The same time as the city did. So, my start in the utility business was because of that.”
The legacy of LCEC Trustees is an impressive one, and it is a small fraternity. Since 1968, there have been only four trustees from the island. Most impressive may have been Curtis Bostick, who served for 30 years. The LCEC substation at 965 N. Barfield Drive has been renamed in his honor.
“Curtis Bostick was born here on Marco Island,” Woodward said. “He was the Trustee before me. He was related to the Doxsees (a Marco Island pioneer family). He grew up in Old Marco. Then his family moved to Ft. Myers. He was an accountant. When he retired, he moved to the estates area of the island. He appointed me to the LCEC nominating committee. The nominating committee meets every year to interview possible candidates. I was on the nominating committee for five years, appointed by Curtis, from 2013-2018.
“That position gave me a lot of insight into the company. I interviewed everybody. Even current trustees go in front of the nominating committee. So, as a result I knew all the Trustees because of that and felt comfortable moving up as a Trustee.
“I’m currently chairman of the engineering and operations committee. We deal with the nuts and bolts—like transformers and substations. Deal with contracts with the sub-contractors and the system expansion. There is a lot of expansion and growth in northeast Collier County. We’re planning for that. It’s an extremely well-run company. It’s also very interesting and I have been very impressed with them.”
In a bit of irony, Marco’s second LCEC trustee, Fred Smith, was also president of North Marco Utilities. Smith served for 15 years, from 1973-1988. Fred was a good friend of my dad’s,” Woodward said. “He was at my wedding.”
Robert “Grits” Griffis was Marco’s first LCEC trustee. Like Woodward, Griffis was well known on the island. “Grits Griffis, he owned G&G Mercantile Store and the Islander motel. He was a trustee from 1968-72.”
Griffis took over the G&G Mercantile store in 1932. He also served as a county commissioner from Marco 1943-57.
“Grits Griffis, married Tommie Barfield’s daughter,” Woodward said.
Woodward, who retired from practicing law recently, is showing no signs of slowing down.
“I’m as busy as I’ve ever been,” Woodward said with a smile.
The Woodward family has been a part of the utilities business on Marco for years.
“My dad was on the nominating committee for LCEC 33 years ago,” Woodward said. He was also a past President of North Marco Utilities, and I’ve been a member of LCEC for 30 years.”
With the growth of SW Florida, LCEC is focused on the future.
“One of the future plans is to give us a secondary power source on Marco Island,” Woodward said. “Currently, the power comes from Belle Meade where there are two substations, the LCEC and FPL substations. Our powerlines run south down the old Marco road. So, if you drive down 951, the LCEC powerlines are way off to the west side. You can see them. They’re running down that old road. Of course, they cross the Marco River, high up, west of the Jolley bridge and end up by the old sheriff’s substation. There’s another powerline coming down SR 29 to Everglades City. They have just one feed for power also. The idea is to extend a line from there to Marco. And that would create a secondary source of power for both communities. That’s a pretty expensive proposition. But I think they’re working with FEMA, and other funding sources who look at it as a way to stabilize and reduce outages. ”
Woodward attends the monthly meeting in North Ft. Myers.
“The building up in North Ft. Myers is amazing,” he said. “One room looks like something out of NASA space command. There are people sitting there looking at a map of the whole LCEC electrical system on this enormous wall. They have storms that come through, and they can see where the storms are coming through. It’s like a massive TV. They are also alerted by the call center if there are reported outages. It’s all very high-tech. It’s a very secured temperature-controlled room. You can’t just walk in there. It’s the brains of the whole operation.”
Woodward, who has been a big contributor to the Marco Island Historical Museum, has a pretty good feel for the history of electricity on the island.
“My information is that electric came to Marco in 1952,” he said. “Who brought it here was the Air Force. They brought power to the island, with Lee County Electric Cooperative available and agreeable to construct the lines to Marco and that’s why they still have this territory, as well as Goodland and Everglades City. But bring power to the Island was at the cost of the U.S. Government who needed it to operate the missile tracking station.”
The missile tracking station was located at the south end of Marco Beach, where Cape Marco stands today.
“There’s a story that said that President Kennedy negotiated his way out of the Cuban Missile Crisis by closing the Marco Island missile tracking station, because it was too close to Cuba and Castro was worried about us shooting missiles from Marco. The Tracking Station did close, but I don’t know, I think that might be kind of a myth. I’ve never researched it totally.
“We certainly weren’t launching missiles from Marco; we were just tracking the speed and trajectory of the missiles. I think it was closed because the development in technology was such that these types of land-based missiles were no longer as important.”
Woodward said there was a time when it wasn’t unusual for a fisherman to hook a missile when fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
“People used to pull missiles out of the water,” he said with a laugh. “Because they launched them from Eglin Air Force base in the panhandle and shot them down the west coast of the state. As they went by Marco, they could see how high they were in the sky and how fast they were going. Can you imagine if you were out there fishing and a missile comes in and plops down next to you? There were notices at the time, that if you hook one of these things, don’t try to deal with them, call the government.”
Prior to 1952 electricity on the island was provided by generators. One ambitious attempt to provide electricity never came to fruition.
“There was a generator building that was built near where Tommie Barfield School is,” Woodward said. “But it was never used. They were going to try to set up their own power system. It later was full of bees and stuff like that. A description I heard was that it was just a big, mildewy building.
“There was also a private generation of electricity. Kelly Gantt, who had the Kelly Gantt motel, I’m pretty sure he had a generator building. People were doing their own power generation before LCEC came to Marco and brought in real power.”
While Marco Island isn’t LCEC’s biggest power user, it is vitally important.
“I might be biased, but I think Marco Island is the jewel,” Woodward said. “One of the biggest customers of LCEC is the JW Marriott. They’re also one of the top users of power from LCEC. LCEC handles mostly residential. There’s no major factories or manufacturing plants.”
Woodward said the LCEC does not generate power, it transmits power.
“We buy power from FPL. LCEC came to Marco first and has the franchise. They are regulated by the Public Service Commission. The rates and stuff. I know that LCEC originally had the area now known as Babcock Ranch. They traded Babcock Ranch to FPL in return for the area south of Immokalee, including Ave Maria. They did a swap there. The reason was it was just a matter of location. It was just easier for LCEC who already had power service in Immokalee and Everglades City. LCEC also has power supply contracts with FPL and that has turned out very well. Customers have not had a rate increase in over 10 years with LCEC.”