Cape Coral’s Piney Point: Wetlands at risk
To the editor:
Wetlands are critical to Florida’s environment and economy. We know this.
They act as natural filtration systems for water and pollution. They control floods and provide storm protection, ever more important as the threat of flooding and storm damage increases with climate change. They recharge groundwater and provide wildlife habitats.
Wetlands are essential to all agricultural, commercial, industrial, residential, and public uses in Florida, and are more valuable than any other habitat in this respect, and yet no state has lost more of its wetlands than has Florida: 9.3 million acres.
We will lose even more if a proposed development in Piney Point, Cape Coral is approved. Yes, Cape Coral has its own Piney Point, a name now notorious, associated as it is with the recent environmental crisis near Tampa.
Cape Coral’s Piney Point is comprised of wetlands, uplands, and transitional zones in between the two, and lies south of Rotary Park, east of land already preserved, for good reason, and just west of Southwest 1st Court. Full disclosure: we live on Southwest 1st Court.
Nothing lies beyond our backyard and those of our neighbors except this area of undeveloped land where usually the only sounds to be heard are wind and wildlife. It is home to coyotes, bobcat, racoons, rabbits, and gopher tortoises, as it is to osprey, hawks, herons, egrets, pileated woodpeckers, chuck will’s widows, owls, and a host of other birds. It serves as a corridor for megafauna such as bears that use all the mangrove coastline around Cape Coral to travel from one destination to the next. It is, in short, a haven for Cape Coral’s wildlife residents who keep losing viable habitat as the city builds out.
The proposed development plan on approximately 100 acres of the 350-acre property, calls for 800 residential units, 38,000 square feet for commercial uses such as retail shops and restaurants, 300 hotel rooms and related parking, 200 boat slips, and pedestrian and bike paths. Envision another Tarpon Point or Cape Harbour.
City documents made available through a public records request reveal what important city personnel think about the proposed development.
Our Utilities Department director notes that “The proposed development will likely require extensive offsite infrastructure upgrades to serve the level of density being proposed.” Our Department of Community Development Principal Planner notes that “Creating a Piney Point sub-district, that would allow more development than what is currently allowed in the Natural Resources/Preservation district, seems contrary to how Cape Coral has utilized sub-districts in the past.”
Most extensively, Manager General of the Public Works Department, declares “This project seems inconsistent with the city’s CONSERVATION AND COASTAL MANAGEMENT GOALS, OBJECTIVES, AND POLICIES.” Those are her capital letters, not mine.
Among other things in four pages of comments, she points out the Piney Point area is home to protected species such as bald eagles, small tooth saw-fish, manatees, and even a Florida panther. “Potential impacts to critical sawfish populations and manatee populations,” she says, “are substantial,” and “Removal of mangroves would weaken the buffering capacity of the mangrove area which protects the city against storms.”
She notes that Piney Point is considered a Special Flood Hazard Area by FEMA, and that the depth to the water table for the development is only 12 inches and the area around it 0 (zero) inches. “Placing infrastructure, residences, businesses, and people in a wetland that has very poor drainage and in the coastal flood zone,” she asserts, “has potentially extensive impacts financially, for livelihood or life in general.”
As word of this development gets out, taxpayers will object to the cost of necessary infrastructure upgrades and to the beating construction trucks will inflict upon our roads. Residents on Pelican Boulevard and El Dorado Parkway will object to the significant increase in traffic in their neighborhood. Families on Southwest 1st Court will object strongly not only to the increased traffic, but also to the relentless noise of construction and the rumble of those trucks for the years that it will take to build this development.
All Cape Coral residents, whether they live near the area or not, should object to the development of Piney Point simply because the destruction of wetlands can no longer be justified or tolerated. The injury to the public good and to the wildlife that currently call this area home is far too great.
Now is the time to remind city council members that no other type of habitat is more valuable and more vital to the public good than wetlands, and that we live in a time of climate crisis when flooding and storms are only going to get worse. Tell your council person that we have reached the point where development must conform to the principles of sound environmental stewardship and sustainability.
This one doesn’t.
Joseph and Eileen Bonasia