Area residents who have an opinion on whether the state should retain or sell environmental lands on Cayo Costa and North Captiva in the hope of buying "better" sites who knows where, still have an opportunity to make their views known.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection held a public meeting, the second of four statewide, on its State Conservation Land Assessment report Thursday in Fort Myers.
Representatives with various environmental groups attended in opposition to the sale.
As well they should have.
That report proposes the possible sale of dozens of parcels -more than 3,400 acres - of state-owned conservation lands, including 14 acres in Cayo Costa State Park, to add to a $20 million kitty to buy additional parcels through its conservation and recreation lands acquisition program.
The state hopes to raise up to $50 million to buy sites deemed more environmentally sensitive than those the report has deemed "surplus" because they don't meet conservation standards.
Although they did when purchased.
On Cayo Costa and North Captiva, most of the 10 parcels remaining on the list are beach access sites, which Lee County maintains should be removed from the sale list.
We agree with the Lee County Board of County Commissioners' unanimous vote. Consider:
- The county states 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 present 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 says.
- 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 both mangrove shore on its western side and a bay beach habitat on the eastern with ample native vegetation with 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 states, 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 maintains.
We urge two things: That the state remove the Lee County parcels from its potential sale list and that area residents and environmental groups continue to demand that they do so.
Otherwise, the properties could be officially deemed surplus and recommended for sale.
While they would first be offered to other state agencies, universities and local governments, they would be put up for bid if there was no interest and then sold if the governor and Cabinet agrees that the land is no longer needed for conservation.
That would be the public's loss.
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Let's flood the address.
- Citizen editorial