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Interlocal agreement OK’d to mitigate scrub jay habitat

By Staff | May 16, 2011

City Council approved an interlocal agreement with Lee County to mitigate scrub jay habitat, but has yet to approve a funding mechanism for the $788,000 price tag.
It was important for some council members to make sure those monies did not come from the general fund, and was not a burden on current taxpayers.
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is being “disrespectful” by asking for the money in this economic climate.
“Fish and Wildlife is making money hand over fist,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “It’s almost disrespectful to the residents of this city to ask for this kind of money in this kind of economy.”
He also said the city is spending money to protect Festival Park, which would likely not be developed any time soon.
“Festival Park was not a great idea … we spent $29 million and it was basically someone’s really bad idea,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “It was a bad idea when it started … let’s not kid ourselves that Festival Park is going to turn into anything in the future.”
Councilmember Bill Deile said scrub jays were like a “cancer” that could spread to the other parts of the city, and that Cape Coral was, in essence, being extorted for having to pay for a mitigation plan.
Since the funding mechanism is unknown, Deile said the agreement Monday simply gave the Cape more time to figure out how to pay for the plan.
“We just bought some time to see what develops out of this situation,” he said.
Trish Adams from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said supporting the interlocal agreement without a clear picture of the funding mechanism is not unusual.
Adams said Charlotte and Sarasota counties were working through a similar situation, adding that USFWS was happy to have made it this far with the city.
“It’s a win-win for Cape Coral and the scrub jay species,” she said. “It balances development opportunities with covering the scrub jay.”
Councilmember Erick Kuehn said he thinks about city issues while brushing his teeth in the morning, while lying in bed at night and he simply wouldn’t be able to sleep if he were to approve spending money on the mitigation plan.
“I would have a hard time explaining to our city people they have to take pay cuts,” he said. “I have to live with myself and sleep and get up in the morning and feel good about myself.”
The interlocal agreement will now go before the Lee County Board of County Commissioners for its vote.
Planning Manager Derek Burr said the city would have to pay up to $8 million for the federal conservation plan if it didn’t accept the interlocal agreement, and that the agreement includes a permit that protects the entire city.
She also said the Festival Park would be rendered essentially useless if the mitigation plan was not accepted, as the habitat land is more important than the bird itself.
“It’s the land that’s being protected, not the birds themselves … the habitat is actually the most important,” she said.