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Committee to review suggestion that Cape site be added to Conservation 20/20 land

By Staff | Dec 10, 2019

Land just north of Four Mile Cove in southeast Cape Coral that was submitted to the Conservation Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee for review as part of Conservation 20/20 will be up for discussion Thursday night at CLASAC’s monthly meeting.

The land was submitted for purchase last month by site owner Ripple Lake, LLC, and assessed by the committee — which gave the 193.87 acres of land a score of 47 out of 100 possible points.

Joseph Cruz, a Cape Coral resident and letter writer to the county on why they should purchase the land, was underwhelmed with the score given to the land by the committee.

“We definitely were not pleased with the scoring,” Cruz said. “There are questions that came up when we reviewed their scores. We want to know why and get clarification.”

The Conservation 20/20 Acquisition Review Criteria is broken down into four categories: size and location, habitat for plants and animals, significant for water resources and recreation/land manageability.

For size and location, the land scored 11 out of 15 possible points. In the habitat for plants and animal section, it scored only two out of a possible 22 points. The land scored 31 out of a possible 50 points in the significant for water resources criteria and three out of a possible 13 for recreation/land manageability.

Two concerns Cruz had included the point values given in the plants and animal section, as well as a comment by staff on the assessment that included seawalls .

In the habitat for plans and animals section, points are given for “native plant cover,” “significant for wide-ranging species,” “rare and unique uplands,” “diversity” and “mitigation.”

The only points awarded to the land in this section came in the “mitigation” category, where a two out of eight total points were given.

Cruz said the area has an abundance of red and black mangroves and is nearly 70 percent wetlands — including much wildlife that calls wetlands a natural habitat.

The assessment gave zero points to the property when it comes to native plant cover as well as a significant area for wide-ranging species.

A study done by the South Florida Water Management District in 2015 shows that 107.43 of the 193.82 acres of land were determined to be wetlands.

The study also shows a mix of natural, as well as exotic plants in the area.

At the bottom of the assessment, a staff comment reads, “Maintenance and constriction of seawall will be (exorbitant).”

This comment confused Cruz, as there are no intentions for a seawall to be built, nor would one be allowed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, as they are currently working with the city of Cape Coral to mitigate damage done in the immediate area of these parcels of land.

Cruz is unsure how this comment may affect the CLASAC review.

The meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Community Development/Public Works Center in Fort Myers, will give members of the public an opportunity to make their voices heard on the parcel of land.

A public comment session will be held before the committee discusses the agenda items, as well as after.

CLASAC will only make a recommendation to the Board of Lee County Commissioners to either move forward or not move forward. The commissioners will then make a decision, in a future meeting, whether or not to instruct staff to begin negotiations on the property.

Cruz is hopeful the community will come out to show its support and hopes their side of the story will help open CLASAC’s eyes to why this land is a valuable asset.

“Our ultimate goal is for the committee to proceed with the next steps,” Cruz said. “We hope the city comes out in support of our effort and makes every attempt to make sure this land is bought. This is the last viable piece of property in Cape Coral that could be discussed for 20/20 purchase. If this land is not acquired by the county, Cape Coral will continue to contribute to a program that has no benefits to the city.”

Cruz said the heart of the matter is to preserve precious land and habitats.

“Cape Coral doesn’t need any more development, we don’t need to destroy a natural habitat,” Cruz said. “Why disturb wildlife?”

Citizens for the Preservation of Four Mile Cove, a dedicated preservation group, of which Cruz is a member, touts the uniqueness of the site, as well as its biological diversity with uplands and wetlands supporting a myriad of wildlife.

Creatures that call Four Mile Cove home include manatees, smalltooth sawfish, gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, bald eagles and plants such as leather fern and protected mangroves.

A major part of preserving the land is the potential to flourish the gopher tortoise population, proponents said.

“The upland portion is special in that it hosts hundreds of gopher tortoise burrows,” wrote Cruz in the application to the county. “This land would be ideal for establishing a tortoise mitigation recipient site. Only two such sites currently exist in Lee County. By doing so, the City or County could be earning revenue for receiving displaced tortoises from other areas, as opposed to paying tortoise removal fees during utilities and development projects.”

Other benefits of preserving Four Mile Cove include: natural watershed that helps maintain water quality functions and filters stormwater runoff, enhancing the value of surrounding real estate, allowance for the county to oversee the restoration of recently disturbed areas and eliminate invasive species and boost the quality of life for citizens of Cape Coral, Lee County and its visitors.

The Community Development/Public Works Center is at 1500 Monroe St. in Fort Myers. The meeting will be held in the first floor conference room.

For more information about the 20/20 process, visit www.leegov.com/conservation2020.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj