Area residents and officials who were opposed to the state selling environmentally sensitive land it had previously purchased on Cayo Costa and North Captiva can breathe a sigh of relief.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is no longer pursuing its plans to sell parcels identified in a State Conservation Land Assessment report as no longer needed for conservation purposes in hope of raising money to buy "better" parcels.
The state will, instead, focus on the sale of non-conservation sites, such as closed prisons and hospitals, officials said.
We hail the FDEP decision.
It is a far better way to accomplish the agency's stated goal: to raise as much as $50 million to add to a $20 million legislation-approved kitty for Florida Forever to buy additional parcels through its conservation and recreation lands acquisition program.
At issue was that the lands proposed for sale -more than 3,400 acres, including 14 acres in Cayo Costa State Park - had, in fact, been purchased because they met state criteria.
Although they somehow no longer did.
Public outcry across the state was almost immediate and state officials got an earful at the public meetings called to garner input.
Locally, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners unanimously opposed the sale of the state-owned sites here as did virtually all area environmental organizations.
As the county stated in its opposition statement late last year:
n The two parcels on the southern end of North Captiva Island, which extend from the Gulf to Pine Island Sound with houses on both sides, should be removed from the potential sale list because they are "low elevation, designated by DEP as critically eroded, and in the Tropical Storm evacuation zone." One has significant mangroves, both have remnant dune vegetation and are sea turtle nesting habitat on the beach side with habitat for two protected species, gopher tortoises and indigo snakes, further in. There also is an active osprey nest on one of the parcels, which, opponents to the sale fear, could become a home or cabin site if sold. "Utilities are not present and any future development would have potential water quality impacts on the adjacent Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve," the county letter to the state stated.
n Eight parcels are on a peninsula in Pine Island Sound near the southern end of Cayo Costa where there already are approximately 11 houses scattered throughout the point. Two are contiguous to other state-owned parcels on the island, all are contiguous to the Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve, and all are in an Archeological Sensitivity zone, according to the county. The peninsula has mangrove shore on its western side and a bay beach habitat on the eastern with ample native vegetation and a "very high quality seagrass bed" offshore deemed "an essential fish habitat." One has a large nest "likely used by eagles or osprey." Again, "Utilities are not present and any future development would have potential water quality impacts on the adjacent Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve," the county stated, adding although habitat has been "somewhat fragmented by existing homes, the parcels are in close proximity to other conservation lands and should stay in conservation status." "This would minimize future risk exposure and prevent impacts to the existing resources and adjacent state lands including Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve. The State should retain these parcels," the county maintained.
How these parcels, and many others like them, got on a "surplus" list boggles the mind.
We are glad the state apparently now agrees.
Our thanks to all the individuals and organizations that helped make that happen.
- Breeze editorial