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County Commissioners

08/28/2013 at 5:14pm

Commissioners Purchase 3.2 Acres
on Sanibel for Conservation 20/20


At their meeting on Tuesday morning, Lee County Commissioners unanimously agreed to spend $3 million on 3.2 acres of land adjacent to the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel. The first such purchase using the Conservation 20/20 program since controversy over the program erupted last fall, the decision followed a lengthy discussion as to why such a small parcel should be part of a program which has traditionally been used to purchase large, undeveloped properties.


During public comment, a number of Sanibel residents spoke in favor of the purchase, saying the parcel will help with the island's water issues and that "clean water equals jobs”.


The Board then approved the entire Consent Agenda - which included a 60-day extension for work on the New Pass Bridge - before beginning the discussion about the 20/20 purchase.


Commissioner Tammy Hall said she has had a lot of calls and asked county staff to put on record what could happen to the site if the county chooses not to buy it. The property is located at 1808 Woodring Road and fronts on San Carlos Bay. A 90' foot wooden dock is on the property, as does a stilt home. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is purchasing an additional 3.37 acres next to it, with both pieces considered to be part of the same 6.57 acre parcel. Fish & Wildlife will manage the property as both pieces will be incorporated into the Preserve.


County Lands' Karen McGuire assured the commissioners that the FWS will manage the property in accordance with 20/20 principles, and that the county is paying less than what was recommended by two appraisals.


Commission Vice-Chair Larry Kiker questioned using the 20/20 program to purchase this property as it has already been developed.


"Are those development rights transferable to elsewhere on Sanibel?" he asked, and

McGuire replied staff is looking into that and that the county would not change the land use until such a determination was made.


Kiker had more questions, specifically since the property only scored 25 out of 60 points in an evaluation of its environmental value that was performed by the commission’s Conservation Land Acquisition and Stewardship Committee.


"I'm not saying this property isn't important for us to acquire,” he said. "I'm just not sure this is the right program for it. Are there other programs this property may qualify for?”


Karen replied that, even though the property scored low on the evaluation, the fact that it is located next to Ding Darling and that it will be maintained by the FWS led to its approval.


Kiker asked if there was anyone who looks at how much is lost by this property - or any other property - coming off the county's tax rolls, and McGuire said no.


Commissioner Frank Mann had an issue with what will happen with the building on the property, asking for assurance that no commitment has been made that that building would be available for use.


The Board then approved the purchase, with the caveat that the building be torn down.


The commissioners then approved an InterLocal Agreement with the City of Sanibel to jointly fund a public education campaign to promote responsible use of fertilizer and - despite Mann's vehement objections - to spend $192,473 on a detailed study of the North Spreader Waterway that would aid in establishing ecological goals for Matlacha Pass and determining the ultimate fate of the Ceitus Boat Lift and Barrier in northwestern Cape Coral.


"The brown water is caused by tannins, period, and I've yet to see specific damage tied to anything, even though we've had studies on top of studies," Mann said. "I am studied out. We have spent seven years on this issue and we are no closer to a resolution and I am not spending another dime on it."


Hall pointed out that the study goes beyond the boat lift.


"If we determine that we want to pull a permit to put the lift back in, we'd have to use this data to do so," she said. "I realize that nothing stays the same, that oyster beds and snook populations move, but this is better than getting into a lawsuit and means we are moving towards our goal of a healthy Pine Island Sound and that we are getting there scientifically."


Chairman Cecil Pendergrass said he's looking for this to be the last study concerning this issue, and the motion passed 3-2 (Kiker and Mann dissenting).


At the end of the meeting, the commissioners unanimously agreed to increase the franchise fee for Florida Power & Light customers in areas of unincorporated Lee County to not more than 4.5%, and agreed to set a public hearing for the fate of LeeTran Bus Routes 60 and 160 for the budget hearing on Wednesday, September 4th at 5pm that will be held in commission chambers at the Old Lee County Courthouse. This is a public hearing on all possible budget reductions, and public comments will be heard.


The next regular meeting of the Board of Lee County Commissioners will be held on Tuesday, September 3rd at 9:30am at the Old Lee County Courthouse. For an agenda, visit


Keri Hendry Weeg