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Local environmental activist honored for lifetime achievement

By Staff | Jan 8, 2019

Anytime an environmental issue has come before the Cape Coral City Council, resident Carl Veaux has been there to speak.

Monday, at the start of the elected board’s regular meeting, Veaux was honored with a state environmental stewardship award for his lifetime of support for environmental preservation and conservation.

It seemed appropriate for Veaux to receive the honor on an evening where the Council unanimously passed an ordinance to protect the burrowing owl, and of course, Veaux was there to give his thoughts.

Veaux, who usually attends meetings wearing a “Friends of Cape Coral Wildlife” T-shirt, came in suit and tie as Terry Cerullo, ombudsman of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection spoke glowingly of Veaux’s work.

“We’re here for his dedication and lifetime passion encouraging community engagement for the preservation of Florida’s natural resources,” Cerullo said. “I could be here all night to talk about him.”

Among accomplishments cited were Veaux’s work on the Babcock Ranch Preserve acquisition by the state, which preserved more than 67,000 acres, making it one of the largest such purchases in state history; his effort for city acquisition of the old golf course acreage, for which Veaux organized a petition drive to prevent development; and his encouragement for the City Council to name the burrowing owl the city bird in 2005.

Veaux thanked the state and City Council for its work to help keep Cape Coral green despite growth, and was given a standing ovation by an almost filled gallery, many of whom were there to speak on behalf of the proposed burrowing owl protection ordinance.

“This is one of the greenest city councils in 20 years. The county isn’t green and neither is Collier County, but you are, thanks to the fracking ban, the eagle ordinance, the four-mile density issue, adopting the owl as the city bird,” Veaux said, adding he hoped the City Council would approve the Paris Climate Accord.

As for the ordinance to protect the city bird, the idea was to find a way to conserve and protect natural areas where the owls live, especially the burrows in which they nest and raise their young and the immediate environs.

In January 2017, the burrowing owl was listed as a threatened species by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Stakeholders, including the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, got together to develop the standards for the amended ordinance, which now falls in line with state guidelines.

Most who spoke during public comment were in favor of the ordinance.

Resident and former city council member Dolores Bertolini said it was imperative to save the bird.

“If you fail to protect this bird, what are you saying about yourselves? We’ve had two incidents recently where owls were buried. We established a neighborhood watch for these birds,” Bertolini said. “These birds don’t cause any trouble.”

Cheryl Anderson said the burrowing owl is also a revenue generator for the city.

“These are not freeloaders. These birds bring in money and people come to see them, many of which stay overnight in our hotels,” Anderson said.

Some concerns included the “taking” of someone’s property without compensation: the owls come to your property, dig a hole and prevent you from mowing your lawn.

However, Veaux said the ordinance only reinforces what the state has ruled and cannot be overruled locally.

“We are trying to save the owl because its population has decreased between 300 and 500 owls because of the city’s build up,” Veaux said. “We have the largest population of them in the world, and I don’t want to sacrifice that.”