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City Council tables eagle ordinance

By Staff | May 15, 2018

Concerning a controversial ordinance that would reduce the bald eagle nest management zone to federal guidelines within the city, Cape Coral City Council decided in a 5-2 vote to table the discussion to its regular meeting June 4 at City Hall.

The proposed ordinance would have reduced the bald eagle nest management zone from 1,100 feet to 660 feet to be consistent with state and federal guidelines, and prohibits development during the nesting season, from October to May.

The original city ordinance was passed in 2007 when bald eagles were an endangered species. The eagles have rebounded significantly in the last decade, and while they are no longer endangered, are still protected.

Currently, the city has 10 active nests and three inactive or alternate nests, which runs about average for what the city has recorded since the year 2000.

However, the encroachment into rural areas has taken a toll, opponents of the ordinance said. One nest lost all three eaglets over the winter, and only nine fledged, which has been about average for the past five years.

Similar to the discussion of a planned housing project in central Cape, public input was again heavy, as nearly everyone voiced their disapproval for the ordinance.

“Your souls are on the line tonight. What’s more important, more concrete or a dollar store or the most recognizable symbol of America?” asked Cheryl Anderson.

“Just because government and cities have lowered the limit doesn’t mean that you should, too,” said Lindsey Logan. “Doing that is un-American and shows weak leadership.”

Unlike the housing project, there was one significant opponent, former mayor Joe Mazurkiewicz, who said emotions are not the same as facts and that people who hope to build here one day may be unable to if the ordinance isn’t changed.

“Get a study done if you think 1,100 feet is safer for eagles than 660 feet to avoid getting sued. You may be right, with the use of a scientific-based study,” Mazurkiewicz said. “Those trees where the eagles live are owned by someone who hopes to live here someday.”

That last point resounded most with council. The first point regarding a study, however, was one city staff didn’t quite seem to entirely grasp, either.

Its main argument stated that Cape Coral was the only municipality among the 20 most populated that didn’t use the 600-foot standard.

Mayor Joe Coviello questioned how many of those large cities have eagles and supported the need for more data.

Councilmember John Gunter said his main concern is that if the city has a different guideline from the state and federal ones, it would open the city to a lawsuit such as one in Bonita Springs.

In the end, council was split on the issue, but mostly agreed that more data was needed. Neither side brought up the possibility of a compromise distance between 660 and 1,100 feet.

Councilmembers Jennifer Nelson and David Stokes were the dissenting votes in the 5-2 motion to table, as they said they approved of 1,100 feet, with Stokes saying it makes the city different in a good way.

Council stressed that the eagle ordinance had nothing to do with the proposed housing project. Residents said they were happy they were at least able to delay the vote.

“I wish we would have had a vote on that, but we’ll be here June 4 with all the research they requested,” Logan said. “It’s all or nothing because if we can reach an agreement of at least 1,000 feet I’d be happy, but we need more strict laws here than in other cities.”