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Four Mile Cove site a worthy addition for Conservation 20/20

By Staff | Aug 20, 2020

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners is expected on Tuesday to give final consideration to the purchase of an environmentally sensitive riverfront tract in Cape Coral.

The 194-acre site, previously proposed for residential development as per its zoning, has passed through the Lee County Conservation 20/20 consideration process with the next — and final step — being whether the county should agree to pay the staff-negotiated price of $6,050,000, or $22,574 per acre. Purchase funding is included in the current budget.

County staff has recommended execution of the purchase agreement.

The county’s Conservation Land Acquisition and Stewardship Advisory Committee unanimously has as well.

We continue to support purchase and add our voice to those calling upon our elected officials at the county level to conclude the process they began in February when the board saw merit in the site and so authorized staff to begin negotiations with its owner, Ripple Lake LLC, a Florida limited liability company.

First and key, staff brought a seller-approved contract to the table that passes fiscal muster: The agreed-upon purchase price is lower than the two county appraisals of $6.3 million and $6.7 million, the “as-is” market price.

And second, third, fourth, et al., the commission has already agreed that purchase is appropriate as it meets the criteria under Conservation 20/20 parameters, which require that land acquired through the voter-approved and taxpayer-funded countywide program be undeveloped, natural parcels deemed critical habitats, wetlands or natural corridors.

Water resource sites get extra criteria points on a 100-point evaluation scale.

Let us review the Four Mile Cove property up for consideration next week:

The tract, evaluated at about 34 percent uplands and 66 percent wetlands, abuts state-owned preservation land to its south.

Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve, on the Cape Coral side of the Midpoint Memorial Bridge, is the second largest preserve in Cape Coral. Its 365 acres are leased by the city from the state, which recognized its environmental significance during the early years of the Cape’s development and mandated its preservation then.

The adjoining acreage has been deemed by environmentalists from the Cape down to Estero as “significant” as well, and it is the last bit of remaining riverfront in the Cape that meets the criteria for purchase under Conservation 20/20 rules.

As the county commission has acknowledged, the Four Mile Cove parcel under consideration well meets the criteria for inclusion.

It earned maximum points for containing a natural primary flow-way, Alligator Creek, and it lies along the Caloosahatchee into which the creek flows.

The parcel also earned habitat points, though fewer than we believe it deserved. Maximum points awarded in two key areas, though, noted the parcel is “significant for wide-ranging species” with manatees, smalltooth sawfish and bald eagles listed, as well as for having five or more plant communities of “Florida land cover” significance.

So what Tuesday’s vote comes down to is whether the price, as negotiated, can be justified.

Given the appraisals obtained, we believe that it can.

We thank county Land Management staff for its efforts, not only with this project but for their role in helping the county reach a very big milestone in March — a total tally of 30,000 environmentally sensitive acres acquired countywide through Conservation 20/20’s willing-seller process.

Since the program was established through voter referendum in 1996, Lee County has acquired approximately 50 preserves, virtually all of which are open for “passive recreation” — walking, hiking, bird watching and more.

It’s an effort for which Lee Countians, who have twice re-endorsed the program, can take pride.

We look forward to Tuesday’s commission vote and the addition of a new Conservation 20/20 preserve in the Cape.

–Breeze editorial