Thirty years ago: Victory claimed in U.S. 41 widening

Thirty years ago: April 29


Thirty years ago: April 29

BATTLE OVER: Bonita Springs and Estero residents were elated to learn 30 years ago this week that state officials had appropriated $5 million to four-lane U.S. 41 on its existing alignment.

The decision by the state House Transportation Committee to allocate the funds ended a lengthy battle over the road’s path through Estero. Though the Florida Legislature needed to approve the allocation, all signs pointed to a decision in locals’ favor.

“The last obstacle was cleared after Secretary of State George Firestone, a chief historic officer of Florida, reversed a decision of Robert Williams,” The Banner reported.

Williams, as the state’s historic office, had ruled the road would have an “adverse affect” on the Koreshan settlement, a national historic district. His decision put the widening of a 4.8-mile stretch of U.S. 41 on hold for several years, making it the only unimproved section of the road in Southwest Florida.

With Firestone’s reversal, the U.S. Coast Guard planned to issue a bridge permit to cross the Estero River, the paper reported.

“Citizens’ power works,” said Walter Shikany, who headed up the Committee to Four-Lane U.S. 41 on Its Original Alignment. “You can say what you want, but when citizen get together and are determined to do something someone listens. After all, it’s the voters who are talking.”

Shikany’s committee, formed early in 1979, had been meeting weekly and lobbying state and federal officials to push for the project. The committee got more than 1,500 citizens to write to Florida Gov. Bob Graham. It also collected 7,000 signatures on petitions, raised money to fight for the road, and sent a delegation to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the project.

Hours after learning about the funding, Shikany and other committee members gathered at his funeral home to be interviewed by the media and to celebrate the victory.

“It was a lesson for all,” Tish Gray wrote in a Banner editorial. “The voice of the people still counts.”

FOLEY CELEBRATION: Father John Foley, who had been sent to take charge of St. Leo Catholic Church in Bonita Springs in 1969, was planning to celebrate his Silver Jubilee in the priesthood that month.

A reception was planned at the St. Leo parish hall, with a short program y the junior choir, directed by Anne Nelesen. An advocate on those who were down on their luck, Foley was well known in the community for helping others.

Marge Gouge, dispatcher for the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Bonita Springs substation, said Foley frequently pitched in when he called him seeking help for people passing through town.

Foley was dubbed the “champion of the poor” by Rev. Paul Lanier, chairman of the South Lee County Clergy Association, composed of ministers in the Bonita Springs area.

In fact, Foley was instrumental in establishing the Bonita Springs Assistance Office, a social services agency that exists to this day.

Thanks to a $6,000 donation and the free use of office space in the new Lions Club building on Pennsylvania Avenue, the agency was just starting up in 1979.

Pastor John Yost of Christus Victor Church, had a special relationship with Foley, calling him a “one-man welfare service.” Yost and his congregation shared space at St. Leo for two years while waiting to build their own church.

ROUGH CROSSING: Bonitans resumed their efforts to get a bumpy railroad crossing fixed on Bonita Beach Road. Previous complaints to the county resulted in the placement of signs warning motorist to slow down. Chamber of commerce officials weren’t satisfied, however.

“I’m sorry, but motorists we talk with do not feel these signs give them much satisfaction, when the cost of the damages to their automobiles’ front ends begins to mouth up,” said Chamber President David Edge.

He wrote to Lee County Transportation Director Ben Pratt about the issue, hoping officials would take measures to smooth out a deep drop created when the road was paved.

BUSINESS NEWS: Setting up shop that week on Old 41 was Realtor John Mathes, providing professional real estate services. On Trail Boulevard in North Naples, chiropractors Charles Galbraith and Donald School were opening for business. In Lawhon’s Shopping Center, C.B. Alltronics T.V. had a spring-time special: a 19-inch Toshiba television for $498.

POLICE BEAT: Heading up that week’s Deputy Watch column was a report about a dozen loose horses and one cow in Imperial Harbor. It was the second time the errant equines had visited the park. Vandals overturned a bird bath on Abernathy Street and someone driving a black station wagon clobbered a stop sign at Dean and Imperial streets.

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