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City still considering funding mechanism for scrub jay habitat

By Staff | Nov 22, 2011

Florida scrub jay

The city is still struggling with a funding mechanism for nearly $790,000 worth of scrub jay habitat costs, which will have to be paid to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service starting in 2013.

A payment schedule spreads those fees out through 2019, although city staff said the time line is merely an estimate.

Staff suggested a $125 fee be attached to each new building permit for new construction or remodel projects.

That suggestion found favor with neither council members nor the construction industry.

“We don’t agree this is a fair way to pay for this blanket permit,” said Heather Mazurkiewicz, executive director for the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association. “We want to work something out where everyone picks up their fair share of the burden.”

An interlocal agreement between the city and Lee County was struck in May to mitigate scrub jay habitat in Festival Park. The Florida scrub jay is the only species in the city listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The species is also protected by the state.

The agreement sets aside land in Lee County’s Conservation 20/20 area in Alva for the mitigation. In return the city receives a blanket permit that allows for development of not only Festival Park but any area in the city where the bird might prohibit development.

The scrub jays reportedly occupy 75 acres of the 215 total acres of Festival Park.

Mayor John Sullivan said he didn’t think the construction industry should have to shoulder a problem that effects the entire city.

“The problem is city wide and not just the last one in the door,” Sullivan said.

“I think it’s important we work with the construction industry since they’re the ones who are directly impacted,” Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said. “Existing homeowners have no need to pay for this.”

Assigning a task force to the funding issue will likely be the next step but no action was taken Monday night during council’s workshop. No time line or organizational structure was assigned to the task force.

Since an initial payment is not due until 2013, the city does have some leeway to figure out the funding mechanism.

Whatever that mechanism may turn out to be, it is clear, for at least one council member, that working with the county and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the matter is crucial to the city.

“This is kind of an insurance policy for Cape Coral’s future,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said. “This gives a clear path to the future.”