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Cayo Costa hearing packs house

By Staff | Oct 3, 2013

The public let the Florida Department of Environmental Protection know what it thought, Thursday night and soon the ball will be in the state’s court.

But opponents to the sale of parcels on Cayo Costa and North Captiva didn’t leave without getting a little good news.

The Florida DEP held a public meeting on the State Conservation Land Assessment on Thursday at the Joseph P. D’Alessandro building in Fort Myers to give the public and conservation experts a chance to speak up on the possible sale of more than 80 parcels of state-owned conservation land, including 10 sites on Cayo Costa and North Captiva islands.

About 10 minutes into the meeting, the 10 became nine, as it was learned that one parcel on Cayo Costa was dropped from the list of possible surplus land that could have been put on the selling block.

The property was one of three taken off the list. It was 1.9 acres on the peninsula, and the news brought applause from nearly everyone.

When someone asked why that property was on the list in the first place, Marianne Gengenbach, chief of environmental services for the state DEP, said she didn’t know, saying only that it was a sign that the process was working.

“The list has been shrinking because of public input. All public input is logged and we are paying attention,” Gengenbach said.

Gengenbach said the main idea of the meeting was to explain their process to the people and address misconceptions people may have about the process.

“This is our chance to go out, explain our process, and then listen,” Gengenbach said.

The Florida Legislature allocated $20 million for Florida Forever, the state’s conservation and recreation lands acquisition program.

It also approved spending of up to an additional $50 million funded by the sale of state-owned lands no longer needed for conservation purposes.

In turn, the DEP organized a land assessment, with nearly 170 parcels, totalling 5,200 acres, put up for consideration. Of those, two dozen sites on Cayo Costa and North Captiva were considered.

Gengenbach said one of the concerns people have had is that they fear the land will be sold to a developer and turned into a mansion or even a Wal-Mart.

And the nearly packed house let them know how they felt, with everyone opposed to the sale of the local properties while singing the praises of Cayo Costa State Park for its environmental importance. Nearly everyone took to the podium for their three minutes to oppose the possible sale.

“What strikes me is the complicated process is going in the wrong direction. I would like to see this done in the direction of retaining property and buying more,” said Richard Shine.

“With ownership comes a responsibility of taking care of the island,” said Margi Nanney, who has owned on Cayo Costa for 38 years. “Florida has been a champion in preserving land and now I feel betrayed.”

“The state has lost its compass and the train has come off the tracks,” former Lee County commissioner Ray Judah said. “Our state is based on the environment drawing people from around the world to our beaches.”

Philip Buchanan of the Pine Island Civic Association said he was stunned this is even being considered.

“We’re flabbergasted that this is even occurring. The environmental importance of Cayo Costa goes without saying,” Buchanan said. “Maybe those in Tallahassee don’t know about the sea turtles nesting or the endangered species like the indigo snakes or all the tourists and the jobs tourism creates.”

As of Thursday, 78 parcels, or 3,400 acres, remain on the chopping block, among them, seven parcels on the south end of Cayo Costa and two on the south end of Captiva.

The first public meeting was in Pensacola, the final two will be held next week in Viera and Orlando.

– Associate editor Tiffany Repecki contributed to this report.