Guest Opinion: This is my home, too: setting the record straight on Impact Wetlands -, news, sports, Florida info, North Fort Myers Neighbor
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Guest Opinion: This is my home, too: setting the record straight on Impact Wetlands

June 5, 2019
North Fort Myers Neighbor

You may have recently seen media headlines, "Lee may allow wetlands buildings" or "Lee board advances plan to allow commercial in wetlands." Now, as a lifelong resident of Lee County and strong advocate for land conservation and preserving our natural environment as much as possible, these headlines were very troublesome. That is until I actually read the full article.

First off, Lee County does NOT PERMIT impacts to or filling of wetlands nor issue permits to fill wetlands. The State is solely responsible for determining the existence of wetlands on a parcel and for permitting the property owner to fill the wetlands that exist on the site. The County is preempted by State law from making any such determinations or from prohibiting the property owner from filling the wetlands. Once the State issues a permit to fill a wetland, Lee County then has to recognize the allowable uses per our Comprehensive Plan. For the past few decades, the County has treated land that no longer qualifies as wetlands the same as the adjacent future land use category. The proposed amendments in CPA 2019-00001 will provide the uses on lands that no longer qualify as wetlands as a result of State issued permits. In addition, the proposed amendments will adopt the County's historical interpretation of the language in the Lee Plan. On May 22, the BoCC approved transmitting CPA 2019-00001 to the State for review; included in that approval was direction for staff to bring back alternatives that would create incentives for preserving on-site wetlands. During the meeting, I was very clear and direct with my questions to the County Attorney and staff. "Do these changes increase development on wetlands?" The immediate answer was NO. "Do these changes affect any of the six cities within Lee County?" The immediate answer was NO. "Do any of these changes affect our water quality within our shorelines?" Again, the immediate answer was NO. Once the amendment comes back from the State with any changes or recommendations, the BoCC will hold a future meeting open to the public and welcome more public input.

During the May 22 meeting, a speaker from an environmental group pointed out that due to the past County Officials' policy of bad planning from 1996-2010, over 28,000 acres of wetlands were allowed to be impacted or filled! That is unacceptable and will not be tolerated under my watch. As a lifelong resident and member of this community, I do not want to see any more loss of wetlands. Since my election in 2012, I remain persistent and steadfast in my efforts to protect our green space and our Conservation 20/20 program, which is the strongest it has ever been in 20 years. In the last two years alone, the County has acquired more than 5,000 acres for Conservation and because of the current Board's policy, property owners have donated more than 5,700 acres for preservation rather than development. We cannot turn back time and protect those areas that were impacted, some of which are now the grounds for gated, golf course communities, shopping malls and a beloved University. However, we can do everything possible to incentivize property owners to safeguard our environmentally sensitive lands, and not at the expense of the taxpayers.

On the eve of the VR Labs conviction, you can rest assured that I will continue to set the best policies for the protection of our environment, responsible spending of your tax dollars and the overall well-being of all in our great community!

- Cecil L. Pendergrass represents District 2 on the Lee County Board of County Commissioners



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