Sunday, May 27 dawned gray, rainy, and windy in Goodland, as Tropical Storm Alberto passed by more than 50 miles off shore. It had been gloomy and raining constantly for days. On this day, I estimated the southeasterly wind velocity at 25 mph with gusts of maybe 35 mph. Due to Goodland’s placement on the eastern tip of Marco Island, that meant that a lot of water was being shoved in from the Gulf, through Gullivan Bay and up the Marco River past Goodland. By 10 AM, the rain ceased and the sun came out. Despite the wind, it looked like another nice day in Goodland.
It must have seemed that way to all those who wished to come here. Every Sunday until June, there are many such visitors – artisans, merchants, builders, deliverymen, fishermen, tourists, and would-be Stan’s revelers, especially Stan’s revelers. The traffic goes both ways. On May 27, the vehicles unsuspectingly approaching Goodland from Naples and Marco Island over sunny dry roads were heading into a trap, a trap unwittingly set by Harry Pettit nearly 80 years before.
In 1938, State Road 92 (San Marco Road) was opened from the Tamiami Trail into Marco Island, but bypassed Goodland Point, as we were then known. Harry Pettit, whose family had lived on the Point for years, wanted an overland connection out to SR 92. He requested Collier County to build it. The county agreed to pave it, but only after Pettit had constructed it. According to Kappy Kirk, Tommie Barfield’s favorite niece, Pettit did it by himself.
Pettit’s goal was to connect the 40-acre Indian shell mound on which Goodland was perched by building a road to SR 92 through the intervening and low lying mangrove swamps. He did it by filling in the low spots with shells brought over from the Point. The high spots were the remains of a series of shell mounds. That’s why the road is so quirky and curvy today. It was kind of like connecting the dots. Unfortunately, one man working alone could not possibly have brought over enough material to adequately raise the level of the road between the shell mounds. After the county had graded and paved the road, we had a quaint undulating and winding entry road into Goodland through a luxuriant mangrove forest. Everyone loved the winding part; the undulating, not so much.
The intervening years were not kind to the road. Through a combination of rising sea levels, heavier traffic, and an inadequate base (the county had simply paved over Pettit’s shell road), the road began to deteriorate and sink into the swamp. Flooding has become more frequent since I moved here 12 years go. During floods (all of which were directly or indirectly due to high tides) it was possible to bob and weave one’s way through the curves and undulations, moving from side to side to partially avoid low spots which contained as much as 8-12 inches of salt water. Once the road emerged from the mangroves however, the salt water could no longer be avoided.
I am guessing that at that point, Harry Pettit, was approaching exhaustion and just wanted to get the damn thing done. There would be no more zig-zagging from high spot to high spot. The last 1,500 feet of Goodland Road would be a straight shot to what remained of the 40-acre shell mound. It extends roughly from Angler Drive to a point just past Stan’s where the ground perceptibly shows the beginning of a gradual rise. Unfortunately, those 1,500 feet is situated on some of the lowest ground in Goodland.
By 12 PM Sunday, May 27, 2018, I could see that the water level in the canal behind my residence was rapidly rising, but I had seen worse. At 12:45 I grabbed my camera and walked down to Goodland Road. High tide was scheduled for 12:52 PM. The walk down Angler Drive on which I live, was sunny and dry. “This can’t be too bad,” I thought. I was shocked at what I saw.
On an unexceptional day (as far as distant tropical storms go), the entire 1,500 length of Harry Pettit’s heroic straight shot finish to Goodland Point was covered in at least 6 to 8 inches of salt water with levels of 18-20 inches the lowest spots. And, at 12:52, the scheduled high tide, the salt water was still rushing in from both sides of the beleaguered road. The surge would continue for another hour.
For a late Sunday in May, the traffic was heavy – in both directions. Vehicles rounding the last bend paused when they saw the volume of water on the last stretch. Those that could, laboriously turned around. Most had to continue for personal reasons, or because they were bumper to bumper with the vehicles behind them and couldn’t turn back. Delivery trucks, SUVs towing fishing scows, sports cars, sedans, pickups, were all trying to navigate the road. Many of them, it turned out, had showed up for the weekly Sunday goings on at Stan’s.
For the first time in the 12 years that I have been here, and excepting Hurricane Irma, Stan’s could not open because of flooding. Goodland Road is at its lowest point as it passes Stan’s. Incredibly some of the traffic had persevered in the hopes of having a few and listening to Hot Damn that afternoon. A couple of determined ladies were to wade through the lake surrounding Stan’s until I dissuaded them. Vehicles were making two to three foot waves and water was visibly surging and pushing into the road from the south.
On the next day, Monday, at high tide, water again covered portions of the road, but only on the lowest spots. It was possible to bob and weave your way through except on entering and exiting Angler Drive, where 12 inches of salt water still awaited. I was surprised to read a front page headline in the Naples Daily News that no flooding had occurred in Collier County. By Tuesday the road was mostly dry, except at Angler Drive, where due to poor drainage, some salt water was still standing.
After years of neglect by the City of Marco Island, Collier County retook possession of the road, effective June 20, 2017. The county immediately began the process which would result in the raising of Goodland Road above peak tide flood levels. They have acknowledged that we do indeed have a problem here. “Due to its low elevation, the existing roadway is frequently flooded during peak tides and storms, cutting off access to Goodland and causing severe damage to the pavement,” said county spokesperson, Connie Deane, “Raising the road will provide a safe and reliable route to and from Goodland, and with the addition of several cross-drain pipes, will also allow tidal and storm flows to more easily pass from one side of the road to the other.”
The county has completed solicitations for a design consultant and will begin design this fall (2018), Dean said. That process, which includes permitting (environmental objections will have to be overcome), will take about two years. Construction bids will be let in the spring of 2020, with actual construction projected to begin in the fall of 2020. “Construction is anticipated to occur over about one and a half years.” Deane said, “But this is all preliminary and subject to change.”
I am convinced that Collier County is fully committed to getting this job done. Before they can get started there will be a lot of crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. They remain mindful of us “folks at the end of the road.”