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Look again at north Four-Mile Cove site

December 27, 2019
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral has a lot of things going for it. Remaining parcels of untouched, environmentally sensitive lands is not among them.

Cape Coral, one of Florida's best known and largest "pre-platted" communities, hasn't been an environmental haven since the '50s when it was mostly pasture and hunting land and the bustling South Cape was part of a raw riverfront peninsula known as Redfish Point.

Where Fort Myers residents saw wilderness, the Rosen brothers, visiting from Baltimore, saw development potential. The rest, as they say, is history with the Cape's story built, literally, on a foundation dug, carved and paved from salt marshes, mangroves, palmettos, pine forests and more.

Article Photos

'Environmentally Sensitive,' opinion cartoon, by Cathy Cochrane.

Remaining pockets of pre-development, natural acreage is scant.

One, maybe, abuts the Four Mile Cove Preserve to the north.

The 194-acre riverfront parcel has been proposed for residential development but environmental outcry persuaded its owner to submit the land for Lee County Conservation 20/20 consideration.

We say maybe because the site evaluation by County Lands Department and Parks & Recreation Conservation 20/20 staff is beyond bad -- it's abysmal.

The parcel that environmentalists from the Cape down to Estero call "significant," and the last bit of remaining riverfront in Cape Coral, received 47 out of a possible 100 points.

The ranking, which has yet to be brought to a Conservation 20/20 Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee vote, was immediately contested by many, including Joanne E. Semmer of Ostego Bay Environmental. Ms. Semmer questioned the points awarded -- or mostly not -- in virtually every ranking category, slamming, particularly, the fat zeros for such things as "significant for wide-ranging species," "rare and unique uplands," "plant community diversity," and "significant for water resources."

Ms. Semmer also takes issue with a number of partial point awards, saying, for example, that the site deserves the full 5 points, not 1, as it is "clearly located on the Lee County FEMA map," as a designated floodway or flood plain protection area.

She -- and we as well -- are also confused as to a staff summation comment that "maintenance and construction of seawall would be exorbitant."

We checked. No seawall would be required by the city -- and why would it be? It's natural riverfront and the state has made it quite clear to Cape officials that "overcutting" the nearby canal banks is a citable offense.

What both sides do agree on is that the parcel qualifies for maximum qualifying points for its location along the Caloosahatchee abutting the state-owned Four Mile Ecological Park preserve on the south side as well as for the fact that the land serves as a primary, natural flowway. These are key points.

There is an additional argument made by some Cape Coral purchase proponents who want the acreage bumped much higher on the county's consideration list.

The intangible, not-on-the-nomination criteria list, is that this is the only site in Cape Coral up for any consideration next year, and, well, that's reason enough for the county to buy it.

We are not among those who make that argument because one, Conservation 20/20 is not a land-buying program, it's a conservation land-preservation program. The city, yes, lacks qualifying parcels that are not already city, county or state owned but that lies in our roots, not with the program or policies.

Two, the county has, in fact, added parcels within the municipal boundaries to Conservation 20/20's most impressive stable with the Yucca Pens off Burnt Store Road and the Yellow Fever Creek Preserve off the Del Prado Extention in the north Cape being two significant examples.

The seven-parcel, 388-acre Yucca Pens Preserve purchased for $2.06 million between 1999 and 2006 conserves multi fragile habitats and enhances sheetflow to wetlands.

The 340-acre Yellow Fever Creek Preserve was purchased for $3.32 million in 2001 through Lee County's now thrice voter-approved Conservation 20/20 program. In addition to its water-filtration benefits, the acreage already has a 2.5 mile-trail that leads to a three-acre lake suitable for fishing. The city of Cape Coral will enhance those passive uses with additional walking, hiking and equestrian trails, camping and a small fishing pier for better lake access as well as improved parking as part of its voter-approved $60 million parks master plan.

Let us also point out that Conservation 20/20 is intended as a regional program and there are two other very large purchases nearby in north county -- the two-parcel, 2,654-acre the Prairies Pines Preserve in North Fort Myers and the 313.5-acre Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve north of the Cape near a state-owned component of the Yucca Pens, approved for purchase this past January.

All told, there are 10,000 acres of Conservation 20/20 lands within 10 miles of Cape Coral.

Let us be clear: All Lee County residents -- indeed all Southwest Florida residents -- benefit from the preservation of water resources and protected natural habitats which is also why we are not among those who argue that Cape Coral taxpayers get little bang for the big bucks we contribute to the program.

It is, in fact, for that very reason that we are very happy the Conservation 20/20 Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee hearing failed to reach a quorum in December so the Four Mile Cove nomination -- a potential benefit to all Lee countians who value the water quality of the Caloosahatchee -- gets another look in the new year.

The parcel near Four Mile Cove will be discussed at the CLASAC meeting of Jan. 9. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Green Room of the Administration East Building, 2201 Second St., Fort Myers.

CLASAC will only make a recommendation to the Lee County Board of County Commissioners to move forward, or not, on the purchase.

The Commission will then make a decision at a future meeting as to whether to instruct staff to begin negotiations on the property.

We would like to see a re-evaluation take place before CLASAC makes its recommendation because we believe its critics' appeal has merit.

A second look. A response to the opinions expressed by local environmentalists.

We believe that is the best way to proceed on the consideration of the property north of Four Mile Cove for Conservation 20/20 purchase.

-- Breeze editorial



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