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$2 million Pine Island land preservation deal saved by last-minute donors

By Staff | Aug 22, 2011

Deeply rooted invasive plants weren’t able to strangle a $2 million Pine Island conservation land deal but they came close.

An impasse arose at the 11th hour over invasive plant removal costs. The seller insisted the buyer – the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast, a nonprofit land trust – needed $229,000 for invasive plant removal costs to rid the land of Brazilian peppers and melaleuca trees before the scheduled Aug. 11 closing. The group was short by more than $126,000 with the deadline days away.

One of the top last-minute donations was $52,000 from The Brunckhorst Foundation. Donors gave through savepineisland.org, conservationfoundation.com and through independent online appeals such as one spearheaded by landscape photographer Clyde Butcher.

“We have never asked people to donate before but I know this property and Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and I wanted to help,” said Butcher.

The property, which stretches from Matlacha Pass to Stringfellow Road, is home to threatened species such as the gopher tortoise, wood stork, roseate spoonbill and also provides critical habitat for tarpon and snook

The deal means negotiations spanning three years have culminated in the protection of 190 acres of environmentally sensitive lands on Pine Island, which appraised for $5 million in December 2010.

“Lee County staff negotiated hard and High Point Land Development Corp. generously agreed to a bargain sale at 40 percent of appraised value,” said Dr. Albert Joerger, founder and president of Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast.

The Lee County Conservation 20/20 Program contributed the lion’s share of the purchase price at $1.98 million with $10,000 apiece from Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast and the Calusa Land Trust.

The property is next to 230 acres already owned by the Osprey-based Conservation Foundation, which has been trying to protect it for a long time, said spokeswoman Marjorie Floyd.

It now joins nearby protected lands, including Matlacha Pass Aquatic Preserve, Matlacha Pass National Wildlife Refuge, Charlotte Harbor Buffer State Park and Little Pine Island Wildlife Refuge.

The site is also located on the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail and is next to the Pine Island-Hendry Trail on Lee County’s Greenway Master Plan.