[Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of articles that will appear at marconews.com and in the Friday edition of the Eagle exploring important issues of the day facing Marco Island and its leaders.]
Just like the flood water on Goodland Drive, negotiations between the city and the county regarding ownership of the road are at a standstill.
In 2002, county commissioners entered into an interlocal agreement to pay the city a total of $15 million in a 15 year period in exchange for taking over Goodland Drive, a half-mile strip and other former county roads maintained by the city, according to previous reporting.
In May the Collier County Commissioners decided to withhold the remaining $2 million from that agreement until the city repairs Goodland Drive.
But councilor Joe Batte said repairing the road to the county's standards will require re-building it, which wasn’t part of the job description when the city took ownership of the road 13 years ago.
“The original agreement with the county never involved re-building the road – just maintaining it – and elevating the road would be re-building it,” he said.
The situation isn’t that cut-and-dry though, councilor Victor Rios said.
“It’s a complicated and confusing issue,” he said.
Councilor Kenneth Honecker, however, agreed with Batte.
“There was never any obligation for us to build or even raise the road,” he said.
While it’s true that the agreement only charged the city with maintaining the road, it’s questionable whether the city has done so. According to Florida’s Department of Transportation’s “Greenbook” – which is the manual of uniform minimum standards for design, construction and maintenance for streets and highways – the definition of maintenance is:
“a strategy of treatments to an existing roadway system that preserves it, retards future deterioration, and maintains or improves the functional condition.”
The last significant work the city did on the Goodland Drive was laying loose stones on the right-of-way, which is actually a violation of its own code. According to the city’s Construction Standards Handbook for Work within the Public Right-of-Way:
“loose gravel, rocks, shell…and similar materials that will result in increased maintenance or hazardous conditions for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists shall not be authorized for placement within the right-of-way and easements.”
Steve Morgan, Goodland resident and professional civil engineer, said the city might have been able to prevent some of the problems that are now occurring if it had been more vigilant about maintaining the road.
“There are a lot of things you can do to extend the life of the road and the city just hasn’t done them,” he said. “For example an overlay should have been done years ago, but now that’s not going to fix the problem anymore and reconstruction is the only option.”
At the June 6 City Council meeting Honecker made a motion to send county officials a letter informing them that the council wants to continue the interlocal agreement as is. In other words, the council wanted the remaining $2 million with no additional strings attached.
The council approved Honecker's motion, 5-2, with councilors Victor Rios and Honig dissenting. Both councilors were in favor of cultivating an amicable relationship with the county rather than taking a tough stance.
“I want to build a relationship with the county, and this might be a good place to start,” Honig said at the June 6 meeting. “The citizens of Goodland deserve a solution to this problem … that's not an issue. The issue is; what is the solution?”
Councilor Larry Sacher agreed that the flooding on Goodland Drive is a problem, but it’s not the city’s problem, he said.
“I don’t deny that there’s a problem – there’s been a problem since day one – but the most troubled portion of the road is on the county’s side,” he said.
The county’s “portion” of Goodland Drive has been point of contention between the two governments, especially with regards to a recent hydrology study.
At a 2014 joint workshop between the Collier County Board of Commissioners and the Marco Island City Council, county officials recommended that the city conduct a concurrent design study with geotechnical and hydrological impacts that would address the flooding issue, according to previous reporting.
The city completed a hydrology study – not in conjunction with any other study, contrary to the county’s recommendation – in January and has requested that the county pay $15,000 since the study assessed its portion of the road, as well; however, there are no isolated wetlands on the county’s portion of Goodland Drive, Morgan said, thus a study of that segment of the road was unnecessary.
Furthermore, at the joint workshop county officials warned the city that awarding the study as a sole-source contract – which city officials indicated they were planning to do – was a violation of state law, yet there are no records that the city ever put the study out to bid, Morgan said.
The city has since decided to re-negotiate its agreement with the county and forgo the remaining $2 million in exchange for the county reclaiming ownership of Goodland Drive. City officials planned for the shortfall when preparing the fiscal year (FY) 2017 budget.
“As you know, our road agreement with Collier County is coming to a close," City Manager Roger Hernstadt wrote in a letter attached to the FY 2017 proposed draft budget."The budget assumes forgoing the $1 million revenue for FY 2016 and $1 million for FY 2017 to use within the [c]ity which creates a challenging shortfall to be filled."
Hernstadt has since met with county officials and said at the July 18 City Council meeting that, for the most part, he’s “encouraged” by their response.
“[The county officials] stated that they would be looking into the issue further and get back to us,” he said. “I think at this point they would like to assume responsibility for the road, they’d like to assume the responsibility for doing the project; however, they haven’t come up with a financial solution … with respect to what they estimate … the funding gap would be.”
The county will experience an increase in revenue this year, but it does not intend to use any of the extra funds on Goodland Drive, Hernstadt said. Instead, county officials said they plan to seek grants to close the financing gap – which is approximately $2 million – and also asked if the city would be willing to re-prioritize its projects and bump Goodland Drive to the top of the list.
“I informed them that although that would be a council decision, I felt it was very difficult [to ask the city] to do that,” Hernstadt said.
He also said the next step is giving the county time to figure out the funding because right now “they have one hand tied behind their backs.”
Chairman Bob Brown said he hopes county officials figure out the funding soon because the people of Goodland deserve a solution.
“Hopefully the county will recognize that the people of Goodland have needs,” Brown said, “and then figure out how to best fund those needs.”
“Providing for the health safety and welfare of the public is the highest priority of services that a government entity is to provide,” he said. “We have, and continue to receive excellent service from the Marco Fire Department. Chief Murphy has even recently made assurances that he will always provide services to Goodland. However, an important point is not to question his dedication to Goodland but question any possible delays his crews might experience when the road is flooded for potential life threatening situations when time is of the essence.”
The county will put the remaining $2 million owed to the city into an escrow account until the two governments come up with a joint plan for fixing the road and update the agreement to clearly articulate that the money is to be used for Goodland Drive, according to previous reporting.
Note: City Council Vice Chair Amadeo Petricca said it's been his policy since he took office to not give interviews to the press; however, he has recently agreed to an interview with the Eagle. Read what he has to say in next Friday's issue.