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Approve scrub jay pact

April 30, 2011
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council's on-again, off-again consideration of a plan to mitigate environmental issues at Festival Park is again on the board's agenda Monday.

Little has been changed in the proposed habitat conservation plan that would allow the city to develop land purchased in the north Cape for a park suitable for festivals and major events except the fact that council needs to get off point before its decision is made for it.

According to a memo sent by City Manager Gary King, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reviewed issues of non-compliance at the still-undeveloped park site. Violations cited include air shows, parking, and fill dirt dumped within the specified habitat area for an estimated three scrub jay families, a species protected at both the state and federal level.

Mr. King summed up the possible worst-case scenario succinctly, should the city fail to act.

"They (USFWS) may find that we must take immediate action to mitigate 'in place' if we do not adopt the proposed plan," he said in a March 25 memo.

"In place" mitigation is not something the city wants to be forced to do.

Municipal staff has already estimated that such an order, which would entail the removal of the fill dirt as well as the planting of a substantial number of scrub oaks, would cost an estimated $1 million.

In place mitigation also would require the conversion of the festival park site into protected habitat with the setting aside of double the 75 acres affected that were bought for millions of taxpayer dollars. Only "minimal" gatherings and passive recreation would be allowed - no more air shows and certainly no major events, the purpose for which the land was purchased.

The proposed interlocal agreement with Lee County, while pricey, is cheaper by far.

As proposed, the Habitat Conservation Plan agreement calls for the city to contribute $788,025 to restore and maintain 125 acres within the Alva Scrub Preserve, protected land purchased with countywide tax dollars under the voter-approved 20/20 Conservation Plan. The money would be paid over time, with $465,025 due in 2014 and the remainder, $323,000, for a perpetual maintenance fund, due in 2018.

Mr. King says this will give the city time to petition the county for funding from the 20/20 land maintenance fund and/or apply for grant money to help offset some of the cost.

In addition to being the lower-cost option, there is a peripheral, but valuable, citywide side benefit to this plan: If new scrub jay families are found nesting elsewhere within the Cape, no additional Habitat Conservation Plan would be required.

There is a third option, this one applicable if the state, instead of the feds, steps in - the city can opt to take part in the state's Florida Scrub Jay Compensatory Fund. The estimated cost? $8.1 million.

Of these choices, the city really only has one. As we've stated on these pages before, that's the pay-as-you-go interlocal agreement with Lee County, already approved by those who hold the regulation manuals in hand.

We again urge council to approve this agreement on Monday before an outside agency steps in.

- Breeze editorial



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