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Guest Commentary: Conservation 20/20 continues to thrive

August 29, 2018
By Cecil Pendergrass , Lehigh Acres Citizen

This week, the Lee Board of County Commission had the opportunity to discuss our successful Conservation 20/20 program. I voted NO on Administrative Agenda Item #2 that recommends changes to the program's application review criteria and approval process. I voted against this proposed change in order to keep the integrity of the program that is currently in place at the will and approval of the voters and the policy direction of the County Commission. I do not want to see extra credit given to land acquisition for the use of utility projects or storm water storage. I support water treatment, but not at the cost of our Conservation lands, wildlife habitat and taxpayer's dollars. In the last six years, I have had the opportunity to vote in favor of every Conservation land purchase that has come before me for consideration into the 20/20 program. I proudly voted to place the 20/20 question back on the 2016 ballot as a straw poll, so that the voters could reaffirm their support. As we know, the voters overwhelmingly approved of Lee County continuing the program and as a straw poll, non-binding referendum. As Chairman of this current Board of County Commission, we have now set policy to acquire Conservation lands to protect our quality of life in Lee County. As of today, there is a total of 95,290 acres held in Conservation, covering 21 percent of the county. In the last four years, we have acquired 5,724 acres of land from development requirements set by this current Board; lands that the developer had to maintain in Conservation at no additional cost to you or me, the taxpayer.

Our environment economy is still healthy, yet we all know the challenges still ahead as we address the red tide and blue-green algae inflicting our beloved beaches and waterways. The violation of our County Ordinance 08-08, which bans the use of fertilizer containing phosphorus and nitrogen during the summer months, is wreaking havoc in our water. We must continue to protect our natural resources by reducing the nutrient loads from runoff coming from developed areas. It is so critical to have programs like Conservation 20/20 in place that give us the ability to actively pursue the Conservation lands that can provide green space, homes for habitat and reduce storm water from entering our waterways.

In 2015, the County Commission adopted Ordinance 15-08, which provided a number of amendments to the 20/20 Program. Ordinance 15-08 reiterates that the Conservation 20/20 Program is an ongoing County activity financed through the Lee County General Fund. In this law, we also adopted a rule that states the fund must be replenished once it drops below $40 million. The 20/20 Acquisition Fund balance is currently $47 Million. For the Fiscal Year 2018/2019 upcoming Budget Hearings, the County Manager has proposed additional $3.5 million into the 20/20 fund. Do I think that is enough? I absolutely do not and I look forward to our future conversations about funding during the Budget Hearings this coming month.

It continues to be my privilege to represent over 720,000 (and counting) citizens of Lee County. I remain dedicated to a life of public service as your County Commissioner and Chairman!

- Cecil Pendergrass represents District 2 on the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. He serves as the board's chair.

 
 

 

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