Saturday, April 17, 2021

Goodland Road

Can the New Agreement Finally Fix it?


A familiar warning where Goodland Road, looking west, enters the lush mangrove forest enroute to San Marco Road: The onrushing tidal surge from the Marco River can clearly be seen at lower middle right (At Angler Drive, October 2015). Photo by Barry Gwinn

A familiar warning where Goodland Road, looking west, enters the lush mangrove forest enroute to San Marco Road: The onrushing tidal surge from the Marco River can clearly be seen at lower middle right (At Angler Drive, October 2015). Photo by Barry Gwinn

The Goodland Civic Association (GCA) was incorporated in April 1978 primarily to “preserve in perpetuity the good life of Goodland” and “promote the general welfare of residents and property owners…” Those two goals are at the very top of the GCA charter. By most accounts the GCA, despite some bumps along the way, has succeeded remarkably well. One GCA campaign, which has waxed and waned since 2002, is still going on. It has the potential to be the most far reaching and beneficial to Goodland of any that has gone before. It speaks directly to the “perpetuity” and “general welfare” clauses in our charter. Its goal is nothing less than Goodland’s survival.

A major milestone in this ongoing campaign was reached on July 20, 2017, when an agreement was recorded, which returned jurisdiction of Goodland Road to Collier County (CC). The road had been the City of Marco Island’s (MI) responsibility since 2002. (See “Goodland Road – Finally Coming Home” (7/21/17) at coastalbreezenews.com.) Styled as an amendment to the 2002 interlocal agreement between CC and MI, the July 20 amendment effectively returned the entire road to the county. In return MI agreed to withdraw its claims for the remaining $2M

The wasteland created by the massive mangrove die-off along San Marco Road: It is a graphic illustration and object lesson about what can happen when environmental factors aren’t fully considered when planning a road project through sensitive areas. The road was built in 1938.

The wasteland created by the massive mangrove die-off along San Marco Road: It is a graphic illustration and object lesson about what can happen when environmental factors aren’t fully considered when planning a road project through sensitive areas. The road was built in 1938.

in CC’s annual payments and to aid CC in obtaining grants to help pay for improvements. Unlike the prior two agreements, this amendment obliges both CC and MI to actually do something to alleviate flooding on Goodland Road.

The 2002 agreement was vague as to the extent of MI’s obligations in maintaining the road. This was to cause heated controversy with the GCA. The July 20 amendment is more specific, setting a price tag of $5.7M for “improvements” and obligating MI to help CC in raising this amount. Although “improvements” are not further elucidated, MI and CC negotiators had agreed that this amount is what it would take to elevate the road. Simply resurfacing the road would cost only a fraction of this.

Another omission, although understandable, may also cause problems and misunderstanding. The amendment mentions no time limit within which the improvements must be made. Actually, no one knows how long it will take. “It will take two years to get the permitting in place to even begin,” says CC Commissioner Donna Fiala, “but meanwhile we will get the studies and design moving along, and hopefully get money in place, and once we receive the permits, we can then go out

Nicole Johnson, the Conservancy’s director for governmental relations. The spokesperson for policy issues related to growth management, she will have a lot to say about what happens to Goodland Road. Submitted Photos

Nicole Johnson, the Conservancy’s director for governmental relations. The spokesperson for policy issues related to growth management, she will have a lot to say about what happens to Goodland Road. Submitted Photos

for bid and get the job done the way it should be.” There’s a lot of “if’s” here – first, the money. Assuming the county has already budgeted the $2M in withheld payments to MI, they can indeed proceed with the necessary studies without further ado. But that leaves an additional $3.7M to be raised for the actual construction. Since MI has agreed to join CC in the request for available grants, the supposition is that this money will be easier to raise. However, the longer this project takes, the more the estimated costs are going to inflate – another imponderable when it comes to money.

But it is the design of the road, which may turn out to be the fly in the ointment here. Any design plans would be held up without the imprimatur of The Conservancy of SW Florida (CSWFL), which leads a coalition of area environmental groups. That coalition took the lead in litigation, along with the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, which resulted in the 1982 settlement with the Deltona Corp.- i.e. the Mackle Brothers. The settlement halted additional residential construction in the as yet undeveloped areas of Deltona’s vast CC tracts, originally totaling 25,000 acres,

 

and set them aside as protected areas. The agreement gave all parties to the suit the legal status to enforce the protection of these areas. Goodland Road runs through one of these protected areas. CSWFL has taken its enforcement role dead seriously.

In 2015, CSWFL seemed to be digging in its heels to oppose any major reconstruction of the road which would “disturb or distress” the mangrove forest on either side of the [100 foot right of way]. “Without taking into account hydrological studies, elevating all or parts of Goodland Road could place too much stress on the abutting mangrove forest,” said Kathy Worley, CSWFL Director of Environmental Science. Acknowledging that the flooding problem was only going to get worse, Worley said the CSWFL was willing to work with MI and the GCA for a solution. “CSWFL isn’t seeing this as a people versus mangroves issue,” added Nicole Johnson, the CSWFL Director of Governmental Relations, addressing a MI Council meeting, “There are very strict and enforceable limits as to what can and cannot happen to those mangroves. We have to do this consistent with the [1982 settlement], taking all things into account.” Like Worley, Johnson was willing to address remedial construction

Director of Environmental Science for CSWFL, Kathy Worley is a staunch defender for the preservation of mangroves.

Director of Environmental Science for CSWFL, Kathy Worley is a staunch defender for the preservation of mangroves.

only to the extent as indicated by the results of a battery of hydrological tests. Although at CSWFL’s request, MI conducted some of these tests, but no follow up was done. Instead, Tim Pinter, the MI public works director, claimed that the CSWFL position would make it almost impossible for MI to get proper construction permits. The GCA got the sense that MI was stalling, using CSWFL’s stance as an excuse not to proceed and that CSWFL had little reason to be optimistic about having an unenthusiastic MI as a partner. We were left with the impression that almost any major construction in the right of way would be considered stressful to the abutting mangroves and therefor unacceptable to CSWFL. There, the seemingly intractable problem languished until this year.

Since 2015, quite a bit has changed. Goodland Road’s new owner has the political will and the resources to raise the road. “We can get the job done, the way it should be done,” says CC Commissioner Donna Fiala, “It will be a mess while raising and constructing the new road, but [when fin- ished], Goodlanders, their visitors, guests, and patrons, will have safe passage.”

An overwhelming preponderance of scientific studies suggests a

Kathy Worley poses with young mangrove trees she planted along a Collier County backwater.

Kathy Worley poses with young mangrove trees she planted along a Collier County backwater.

sea level rise of from six inches to three feet by or before the end of the century. CSWFL does not dispute these prognostications. “Science confirms that sea levels are rising, with debate centered on how much and how fast,” says Worley, mentioning CSWFL’s ongoing collaboration with FGCU and Harvard University in studying the phenomenon in Southwest Florida. “The effects of sea level rise will certainly impact coastal communities, such as Goodland.” Worley is quick to add that mangrove forests are the first line of defense against flooding.

Kathy Worley does the research for CSWFL. Since 1997, Nicole Johnson, CSWFL’s indefatigable spokesperson, explains CSWFL’s policy resulting from this research. If at all possible, she will never turn down an opportunity to do this. As a signor to the 1982 Deltona settlement, she believes that CSWFL is adjured to “protect the mangroves adjacent to [the Goodland Road right-of-way] from negative impacts, both direct and indirect, as part of [any] road improvement project.” The specter of a similar die off, as has occurred along San Marco Road, must always linger in her mind. “The Conservancy does not believe that this is a matter of ‘people versus mangroves’ or ‘environment versus safety’” says Johnson,

A mother raccoon leads her reluctant kit across Goodland Road to feeding grounds along the Marco River (At Angler Drive, September 2015). Photo by Barry Gwinn

A mother raccoon leads her reluctant kit across Goodland Road to feeding grounds along the Marco River (At Angler Drive, September 2015). Photo by Barry Gwinn

“The issue is about finding solutions that address the needs of both the human and ecological community.” Both Johnson and Worley believe that such solutions are now possible. Worley offers specifics: “Bridging (read ‘elevating’) the road would be the best long term solution,” she says, “Culverting the road would be a viable short term one. Once the hydrology is understood, steps can be taken to prevent stress to the mangroves, while at the same time allowing for road improvements.”

So…will the 7/20/17 amendment succeed in fixing the road? I believe that ultimately, it can. The amendment calls for Collier County to raise the road. The Conservancy is on record as believing this to be the best long term solution and has expressed a willingness to cooperate in bringing it about. The Goodland Civic Association has consistently called for such a result. If all three of these parties remain steadfast, anything is possible. In the words of Commissioner Donna Fiala, “Now the hard work begins.”

Barry was a practicing attorney before he worked as a Special Agent of the FBI for 31 years. Barry worked for several government agencies another ten years before retiring to Goodland in 2006. Barry is presently the Secretary of the Goodland Civic Association.

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