THIRTY YEARS AGO: Resolution hoped for in U.S. 41 widening

41 UPDATE: A local official got a hint 30 years ago that the lengthy battle to widen U.S. 41 through Estero was about to be settled.

“Commissioner Roland Roberts reports he got little encouragement that Robert Williams, state historic preservation officer, would reverse his adverse opinion on U.S. 41’s Estero alignment during their meeting last Thursday,” The Banner reported.

However, Roberts said other state officials were still optimistic the routing might be approved. Roberts expected word within 30 days.

The 4.8-mile stretch of U.S. 41 in Estero was the last unimproved section of the highway in Southwest Florida, creating a dangerous bottleneck that had claimed lives.

Though right of way had been purchased to widen the road along its existing route, rules protecting the adjacent historic Koreshan settlement were hampering the road’s completion.

While Williams was pushing for a westerly alignment of the highway, locals continued to press for the existing path. During a lengthy battle, they lobbied state and federal officials, formed a committee and hired a lawyer.

WATER WOES: As happens every year about this time, a drought was plaguing Southwest Florida. Bonita Springs, however, was in good shape.

“In Bonita Springs, residents may use all the water they like,” reported The Banner. “There is no problem, according to Glenn Van Riper, superintendent of the Bonita Springs Water System.

While neighboring towns were seeking voluntary cutbacks in water usage, Van Riper said Bonita’s water supply was plentiful.

“We have no plans for any restrictions,” said Van Riper. “Our plant is rated to pump up to 2 million gallons of water a day. If we get up to 850,000 gallons pumped in one day, it’s a big one.”

At the time, the facility had six wells in its well field eat of town, and two more drilled and about to be put to use.

The plant’s permit for water consumption allowed it to pump up to 8 million gallons a day. It had water district approval to drill four additional wells over the coming decade.

Different water problems were taking place at a local park that was surrounded by H2O. Carl Johnson Park, on the Bonita Causeway, was then a county facility boasting everything from a tram and picnic tables to restrooms and a playground. The one thing it didn’t have, however, was water that was safe to drink.

“On the door to the bathrooms, there are signs ‘do not drink the water’ and the drinking fountains, installed at convenient locations along the beach, are dry,” reported news editor Tish Gray. “Not even a trickle comes through the pipes.”

Obviously, county officials planned for water to be available to sunbathers. In fact, the park even had a small reverse osmosis plant that provided water for the restrooms and showers. But under state law, it could not be certified for drinking.

“It is probably as good water as any in the area,” said Jerry Brooks, superintendent of Lee County parks. “But the state says we have to hire a Class C licensed water operator to run it before we can get certified by the state health department.”

Park officials were considering selling bottled water, a rarity in those days, until the problem could be resolved.

PLAN PROTESTED: A Bonita Beach resident that week lashed out at Lee County’s program for disaster preparedness, calling it “ridiculous.”

Gerard Wennemer, who lived at Bonita Beach Mobile Home Village, chided officials for saying they planned to block roads, preventing resident from leaving the county during a hurricane emergency.,

“We have a lot of elderly people here, under constant medical care, and many use the hospitals and doctors in Naples,” said Wennemer. “I think it would be unwise to shunt them to a hospital in Fort Myers.”

He also took exception to making all roads one-way during an emergency and to allowing Fort Myers Beach residents to evacuate south, via Bonita Beach.

“Our roads here are being used to capacity now,” Wennemer said.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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