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Conservation 20/20 remains focused

By Staff | Jan 30, 2019

Taxpayers who support Lee County’s 20/20 Conservation program – and that, literally, is most of us- may see another 660 acres or so of environmentally fragile land added to the nearly 30,000 purchased thus far for preservation.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners agreed last Tuesday to pursue the purchase of seven additional parcels, most abutting current preserves.

Four of the proposed sites are “primarily mangroves within state preserves known as the Pine Island Sound Aquatic Preserve and the Estero Bay Aquatic Preserve,” according to a Lee County release issued after the commission action.

The other three are adjacent to the state’s Yucca Pens Unit of the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area, located on the east side of Burnt Store Road north of Cape Coral.

The vote means that county staff will seek appraisals on the parcels, which were recommended for purchase late last year by the Conservation Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee.

We thank our county commissioners for moving forward and we re-emphasize our support for the taxpayer-funded program approved not once, but twice, by voters.

Since Lee Countians first agreed to tax themselves in 1996, the county has acquired 131 properties among 47 preserves.

The intention?

To “protect drinking water, reduce flood risk, protect native wildlife and plant communities, and provide spaces to enjoy nature-based recreation,” according to Lee County’s website.

The preserves, scattered throughout Lee County, include multiple sites in Cape Coral, North Fort Myers, Pine Island, Sanibel and Captiva, Fort Myers Beach, and outside Lehigh Acres.

While some have argued that the Cape does not get enough bang for its collective buck, we do benefit directly through the continued countywide commitment to watershed and environmental protection.

While South Florida’s water-quality issues have only now become a political priority at the state and federal level, Lee property owners have put their money where their mouth is for more than two decades, with more than $350 million spent to date to buy land and another $4.97 million earmarked annually for site management efforts.

Nor has the county shied away from ambitious acquisitions.

In December 2017, the program acquired its second-largest site – the 4,000-acre Edison Farms land, an integral part of the Lee Plan’s designated Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource area – for $42.5 million.

Properties within the DRGR not only mark the region’s aquifer recharge area and so protect the sources of Lee County’s drinking water, they also serve to protect the water quality conditions in Estero Bay and the Estero River by providing filtration for stormwater runoff.

A kind of microcosm of the Lake Okeechobee pollution correction plan that also is intended to recharge the Everglades.

Conservation 20/20 is a good program.

It’s one voters agree is important.

It continues to move forward, for the most part, as envisioned.

For government initiatives this long in existence that’s rare, rarer, and rarer still.

Carry on.

– Citizen editorial