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Take action on plan to restructure Conservation 20/20

August 17, 2018
By RAE ANN WESSEL , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Lee County taxpayers have been clear; we value our wild side and recognize our economy is dependent on the natural diversity and wild creatures with whom we share this area. In 2016, 84 percent of Lee County voters reaffirmed our commitment to the Conservation 20/20 Land Acquisition program first voted on in 1996. In that time this wildly popular program to preserve environmentally sensitive lands has acquired 28,978 acres on 130 properties and many miles of shorelines all across the county.

Our neighborhoods benefit from preserving wild lands, the land captures, recharges, and filters rainfall, floodwaters, and sheet flow to prevent new sources of pollution. They provide wildlife habitat and corridors, support biodiversity of natural landscapes, and provide areas where we can study and renew our spirits in nature. And these natural refuges fuel our economy. This is a win-win program at least it has been.

Lee County has proposed changes that will be voted on Aug. 21 to "streamline" the current Conservation 20/20 program. We encourage you to visit to send a letter to the commissioners and if you can, attend the meeting in person at 9:30 a.m. at the Lee County Courthouse, at 2120 Main St., Fort Myers.

Article Photos

Rae Ann Wessel

There are some 40 parcels of land that have been nominated by landowners for review and consideration, but the county administration quietly stopped the process even following approvals by the advisory committee.

We don't feel the proposed changes reflect what the public voted for, specifically:

- Nominations will be reviewed once a year in an annual grant cycle: What happens to the 40 proposals that have been nominated but not acted on? Do they have to resubmit?

- County staff, not the advisory committee would screen nominations: What is the role of the public committees? Who would do the screening? What transparency would there be?

- The evaluation criteria shifts the emphasis to water quality "project" sites over natural landscapes: We fear this will result in funds meant to protect environmentally sensitive lands being used for lands of lesser quality to build infrastructure projects that should instead be funded by utilities or a stormwater utility. Criteria could prioritize infrastructure projects over natural landscapes with uplands and wetlands.

- The proposal does not address how the current $40 million from property taxes would prioritize the intended acquisition of environmentally sensitive land acquisition.

- The proposal does not address how the program funds will be replenished.

We fear that the new cycle and criteria will eliminate unique parcels such as the previously purchased Woodring site on Sanibel and gives shrinking consideration to sites contiguous to existing preserves.

We are at a critical juncture in addressing the health and survival of our natural systems. We should be enhancing our land acquisition efforts rather than limiting them. We caution that all of our water quality solutions should not be limited to purchasing land through this program. The county should also consider revisiting a storm water utility to implement water quality infrastructure needs and to require low impact design criteria when approving development in an area that will impact water quality.

Please contact the Lee County Board of County Commissioners before Aug. 21 to let them know how critical it is that they protect and support continuing this program.

Rae Ann Wessel is the natural resources policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.



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