Fiala holds town hall: New projects, developments and Goodland Drive discussed

Sandra Baer

New restaurants, congestion at Tigertail and conservation topped the list of concerns expressed by Marco Island residents at the 2017 Marco Island town hall gathering sponsored by District 1 Commissioner Donna Fiala on Thursday.

The meeting was held in the Rose Hall at the History Museum, and in addition to the county administrators presenting the program, Marco Island city councilors Howard Reed, Charlotte Roman, Jared Grifoni and Larry Honig were present.

Commissioner Donna Fiala at the podium making opening remarks during the Marco Island Town Hall Meeting;

“I like to reach out to the community every year just to continue the good feelings we have between the Marco Island community, the county government and the local government,” said Fiala, who has sponsored the event for the past 16 years.

“It’s just a way to keep everybody tuned in and a way for us to learn about anything we need to work on for the benefit of the Marco Island community.”

County finances

Following Commissioner Fiala’s opening remarks, several county employees addressed the group beginning with Leo Ochs, Collier County manager. Ochs presented the current fiscal situation that showed the 2017 adopted general fund budget is seven percent higher than last year which is still 2.5 percent lower than fiscal year 2007 (which marked the onset of the recession). Marco Island represents a little more than 12 percent of the county-wide taxable values for 2017.

Parks status update

Barry Williams, who oversees Tigertail beach, South Beach and Caxambas Marina as the division director for parks and recreation, gave an overview of current projects and issues facing the parks.

Plans are in motion to move the Coast Guard Auxiliary building at Caxambas Pass Park from its current location behind the marina to an adjacent area in the park; closer to the entrance -- in order to increase the size of the facility.

Residents are being asked not to fish off the boat ramps at the Caxambas Marina as a safety measure for boaters attempting to refuel, or use the ramps.

After examining the new lightening detection system installed by MICA at Residents Beach, county administrators are considering the installation of similar systems at their facilities.

The director for parks also addressed an ongoing topic of contention involving limited parking at South Beach and visitor parking in nearby swales. Visitors are being encouraged to visit Tigertail Beach where 175 parking spaces are available and six boardwalks provide access to the beach area.

“The more parking they have, the more people will come,” said Jo Ann Haigh, a full-time Marco Island resident, who has lived on the island for 30 years.

“If you want to keep your city small, you have to come to these meetings and be heard. It does help.”

With increasing visitors to Tigertail beach, county officials became concerned about the effects on the lagoon and the sensitive bird sanctuary that many visitors traipse through on their way from the parking lot to the beach. Coastal Management Programs Manager Gary McAlpin, who worked with an advisory committee, presented the idea of building a low boardwalk that would extend over the lagoon and the bird sanctuary and provide greater safety to those who might otherwise wade through waters that range from mid-calf to chest level; depending on the time of day.

Goodland Drive

Rising water levels on Goodland were addressed by Nick Casalanguida, deputy county manager, who said that the county is working in partnership with Marco Island officials and that county officials are willing to take over the $4.5-6 million construction project to raise Goodland Drive to a level that is two feet above sea level.

Museum news

Amanda Townsend, the division director of museums and Patricia Rutledge President & Executive Director of the Marco Island Historical Society are continuing their efforts to borrow the Marco Island Cat from the Smithsonian and are hopeful that they will have the iconic Calusa feline on exhibit during the winter 2018 time frame.

Rutledge also noted that thanks to innovative displays like the Pioneer Era exhibit and the Windows and Doors to History art project, visitors to the museum have increased from 17,000 in 2014 to 25,000 in 2016.

Most recently, the Marco Island Historical Museum is opening the Serene, Explosive Parody Exhibition by George Snyder that will run from March 1 to May 31 with an opening reception from 6 until 7 p.m., Feb. 28.

Airport project, updates

The Marco Island Executive Airport has some changes planned with the terminal relocation project slated to begin in late fall.

The current facility will be moved 500 feet west of the existing building. Justin Lobb is manager of the Airport Authority that also includes airports in Immokalee and Everglade City. He notes that although the airport does not have a control tower it is a full service Fixed-Base Operator [FBO] with 12 T-hangar units and a waiting list of 40 additional aircraft.

Architect's rendering of the new terminal building to be built at the Marco Island Executive Airport.

There are currently two flight schools operating at the airport and a new Enterprise car rental business that is open 7 days a week and is accessible to the public.

Other issues

Director of the Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Division Dan Rodriguez indicated that things are going well in recycling for Collier County. In 2016, 86 percent of all solid waste generated was diverted, or recycled leaving only 232,000 tons being sent to landfills and of that, 57 percent is commercial.

Marco Island resident, Litha Berger, questioned if land conservation was being addressed in Collier County for resident water use. Commissioner Fiala assured her that the county is buying up future water sources to prepare for the future.

Marco Island Resident, Pat Windle listens to speakers during the Marco Island town hall meeting.

“I wanted to find out what restaurants were coming to the area,” said Pat Windle, a Marco Island resident, who is attending a Town Hall Gathering for the first time. “I really like Brios and I’m hoping it’s coming.”

Unfortunately for Windle, Brios is not one of the restaurants moving to the area at this time, but Mark Strain, chairman of the planning commission, was able to give a list of other new businesses arriving including an Aldi grocery store on Collier Boulevard and a Wawa gas station on Hwy 41.

A Texas Roadhouse restaurant on Collier Boulevard is slated to open on March 20 near the Pei Wei Asian Diner, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Pollo Tropical restaurants. The project to build a Sam’s Club on Highway 41 across from the county building is temporarily on hold.

Strain also mentioned upcoming projects to build new cloverleaf overpasses at the I-75 exit near Davis Boulevard in 2021. The flyover project to elevate roadways at the intersection of Collier Boulevard and US 41 will not be built for 30 to 40 years.

Strain finished up by announcing that a new book “The Peoples Commissioner Donna Fiala” is due to be released on April 13, which is Fiala’s birthday.