Letters to the Editor

Law enforcement history lesson

In response to Arleen Perrotti’s letter entitled “Shocked,” it is obvious that Ms. Perrotti has not been a resident for very long.

There always was, and still is, a sheriff’s substation on Marco. Before the island became a ‘city,’ our streets were patrolled by county deputies, many of whom were known on a first-name basis with the locals. If you were too intoxicated to drive, they drove you home and if you were driving above the posted speed limit, usually they would stop you and give a friendly warning. Crime was all but non-existent.

With the coming to be of “The City of Marco Island,” we also adopted our own “police department,” which added the burden of extra salaries to our island and basically an ‘overkill’ situation. Many times I personally witnessed three or four squad cars, lights a flashing, blocking a main artery, just to stop and question a 14-year-old kid about how fast his motorized scooter was going. The locals dubbed the new police officers as ‘wannabees,’ and when I need to raise an issue, I find much more co-operation from the sheriff’s substation than the Marco Island police.

The complete removal of the latter might not result in a favorable law-abiding environment, but, for what it’s worth, we were just fine before we had two police departments.

Steve Paul

Marco Island

The mangrove die-off

In a recent letter to the editor, Councilor Wayne Waldack said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, awarded an $81 million construction contract to Kiewit Southern Co. of Sunrise, Florida for the replacement of one mile of Tamiami Trail with a bridge and the raising of an additional 9.7 miles of that road so as to restore critical water flow, now blocked by sections of the road, into Everglades National Park.

Clearly this is a commendable project and fully in line with the wider Everglades Restoration effort. The problem posed by road obstruction is not unique to the Everglades area. We have a similar situation here on Marco Island, albeit at a much smaller scale. Specifically, following construction of S.R. 92 (San Marco Road), the eastern section roadbed and its easement interrupted the normal flow of water and created unfavorable conditions for the healthy development of large sections of mangrove forest. The result was the initiation of a massive mangrove die-off that has been steadily expanding.

On the south side of San Marco Road the die-off begins near the Vintage Bay development, continues north of Key Marco and then on to points east. Though extensive, this part is invisible from the road but can be clearly observed from within these properties. On the north side, it is most evident from Steven’s Landing on to practically the Goodland borderline. Here, the puzzling recent large-scale removal of most of the healthy plants on the road easement and its vicinity exposed the hitherto screened die-off in a most jolting and sadly grotesque way.

As a rule, in the affected areas the landscape has the parched, scarred appearance of the surface of a science-fiction planet dotted with black trunks of branchless trees jutting improbably out of the deeply pockmarked ground. One has to observe it up close to appreciate the magnitude of the devastation.

Apart from the visual, and sometimes olfactory, unpleasantness imparted to the observer, the phenomenon represents an environmental disaster. The problem has been known to state, county, and local environmentalists for a long time but no agreed upon solutions have been forthcoming. Inland aquatic environments in this state are being disrupted continuously under the relentless impact of urban development. However, it is difficult to imagine a particular predicament comparable in severity with what we are facing here, a situation which, left untreated, will likely continue to spread with unpredictable consequences.

Now, however, with the Tamiami Trail Bridge and Roadbed Raising project a reality, we have a perfect opportunity to bring our case to the official attention of the state. It can be argued that our die-off areas are extensions of the Everglades ecosystem and as such merit restoration, and funding of proportional magnitude. It has been proposed that repairing and replacing the system of culverts, supposedly originally constructed under San Marco Road for the purpose of maintaining normal water flow, would solve the problem.

This may well turn out to be the case. However, ecosystems are dynamic entities with feedback mechanisms, constantly evolving and likely to undergo unforeseen overlays of change over time. Therefore a prudent approach toward a long term solution should begin with an in-depth professional evaluation, the outcome of which should dictate a course of effective corrective action.

Mr. Waldack’s reporting is a wake up call and opens the door to a unique opportunity. We should take full advantage of it.

Dr. Gerry Tsandoulas

Marco Island

What happened to state protection?

When Marco citizens approved the purchase of the water/sewer utility from Florida Water, they gave up the protection that Florida’s Public Services Commission provides. Probably few realized what they had sacrificed. I can’t recall anyone mentioning it – certainly not the proponents of the purchase – nor can I recall it being debated in a Council meeting ... if Councilors can be said to “debate!”

Investor-owned utilities cannot raise rates without applying to the state PSC. The Public Services Commission (often called a PUC or Public Utilities Commission) reviews the books, calculates the company’s operating cost and determines the investment it has made.

The rate is set to provide a state-regulated return-on-investment. We’re going through that in Connestee right now. Along with many others, I testified under oath before a commissioner, a court reporter, a PUC consumer-advocate lawyer and a PUC engineer regarding the proposed increase. A company attorney and representative were present to cross examine. A final round of testimony will be taken at the state capital before the commission makes its decision. A rate increase is almost certain, but it will be set by law and not used to pave streets, underground wires, or pay the community electric bill! This is how the system should work. Utilities are, by their nature, “natural monopolies” and need to be regulated by the state.

The situation is different for a municipally-owned utility. Except for safety issues, the Florida PSC has no control over Marco Utilities. The PSC does not set rates; the PSC doesn’t hear consumer complaints; the PSC does not determine how the money is used. A municipally owned utility only needs Council approval for a rate increase and the dog licks the hand that feeds him.

Marco lost big time when its citizens approved the utility purchase. Not only did they buy an ancient broken-down utility in great need of repair, not only did the city renege on its promise to freeze rates (except for COLA) for 6 or 8 years, the city blatantly ignored state regulations regarding utility “improvements” (read STRP), failed to hold open hearings or follow state regulations. When the validity of the city’s first bond issues was challenged in court on this basis, Judge Hardt ruled that the city had “Home Rule,” could do as it pleased and could disregard silly state regulations. Obviously Florida courts don’t regulate municipally-owned utilities either.

The citizens of Marco Island trusted their council to protect them, not to rape them. The aftermath is history.

Ed Foster

Former Marco resident

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