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Eagle setbacks can cause business delays

By Staff | Jan 28, 2011

Mike McCartney from American Marine Construction thought city council would approve changes to the Cape’s bald eagle ordinance, putting him and his company to work on a $25,000 job installing a residential dock.
A portion of the southwest Cape home where McCartney hoped to begin working is within 1,100 feet of a bald eagle nest. Since council decided to reject any changes to the ordinance, McCartney said he has to wait until May, after eagle nesting season, to begin working.
Had council approved the changes, which would have moved the bald eagle buffer back to 660 feet, the dock would be under construction now.
“Work is very hard to come by right now so it’s a little frustrating when the work you do have, you have to wait five months to do,” he said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve been held up. It happens to us a couple times a year.”
The eagle regulations have been in place since 1993, according to city planning technician Lori Blydenburgh.
The buffer requirement is more stringent than state and federal guidelines, according to Blydenburgh, who added that the city does allow construction during nesting season as long as the builder has an eagle management plan, which requires a qualified eagle monitor during construction.
Blydenburgh said the city has 19 active nesting sites, and “12 or 13 eagle pairs” inhabiting the nests.
Nests also fall into two other categories, she said. There are abandoned nests, which mean remnants of the nest still remain although the eagles no longer use it. Then there are lost nests, meaning the nest is no longer in the tree for whatever reason.
The city’s planning technicians go out once a week, or at least no more than 10 days apart, to check the status of the eagles and the nests, Blydenburgh added.
McCartney said the nest that is halting construction of the dock “is not there,” but due to guidelines he still can’t begin working.
“Things are frustrating, but what’s more troubling is the nest has not been there for a year,” he said.
Blydenburgh said a “lost nest” remains protected for two full nesting seasons, while abandoned nests are protected for six full nesting seasons.
The city is currently in the 2010 – 2011 nesting season.
“If they don’t come back at the end of this season, we consider that lost,” Blydenburgh said.
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz, one of six votes blocking any changes to the ordinance, said it was important to coordinate efforts to preserve the bald eagle
He said McCartney will be able to achieve his goal of building the dock within the guidelines of the existing ordinance.
“Nobody likes being delayed earning an income, but it’s more responsible to do that than it would be to take chance on acceptable losses in the eagle population,” he said.
McCartney, whose American Marine Construction has been operating in Cape Coral for 16 years, concedes he presumed the changes would pass. He said he was comfortable the changes in the ordinance would be adopted.
“We knew coming into the job a portion of the property was in the (eagle) zone, but council had been talking, and we thought is was going to be reduced,” he said. “We told our customer to be patient. But it didn’t happen.”
Councilmember Kevin McGrail, who proposed the changes to the ordinance, could not be reached for comment Friday.