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Re-hearing on dune walkover postponed

February 6, 2020
By NATHAN MAYBERG ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

At the request of the applicants who have proposed a 298-foot dune walkover on Fort Myers Beach, the town council's re-hearing has been pushed back to Feb. 18 at 9 a.m.

Several speakers at the council's Feb. 3 meeting spoke up during the council's public comment session to reiterate their opposition to the walkover and their concern over the threat they believe the proposal poses to birds on the island and the adjacent Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area.

The town council voted 3-2 against allowing the dune walkover at a previous hearing in November. Kurt Kroemer and Eddie Rood, who own the two properties through Squeeze Me Inn LLC and Texas Hold Em LLC have been seeking the walkovers since 2015 but have thus far been unsuccessful.

Penny Jarrett, who helped coordinate the Christmas Bird Count on Fort Myers Beach, said the count showed that the south end of Fort Myers Beach (the section of town where the dune walkover has been proposed) is a "particularly special, unique, pristine habitat that the shorebirds have found, that they depend on, that they utilize and they are different from many of the other species that some think are common that have made a comeback."

Jarrett said "these are special, unique birds that are easily flushed that do need to recover from their long migrations, that need undisturbed protected areas for their nesting and when we as a town, and I think that we will see, that folks enjoy this habitat."

Jarrett described the area in question as "very rare habitat."

At the last hearing on the subject in November, Brad Cornell, a policy associate for the Audubon Society, said that the critical wildlife area is one of only two major nesting areas for Southwest Florida, the other being Marco Island.

Gayle Crabtree-Pergoli, who lives in the LEICWA, said "I'm begging council to protect our entire island, especially our Critical Wildlife Area and to protect our birds."

Gloria Abrahamoff read the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's definition of a critical wildlife area (CWA) which are "discreet sites such as mangrove islands or sandbars where species gather daily or seasonally for essential activities such as breeding, feeding or resting. The FWC establishes CWA's at sites where there is already documentation of human disturbances interfering with these activities.

"This isn't a light decision that they make. This is serious business for the birds, for the habitat, for the environment and for the island and to let purely economic and short-term profits for some individuals affect a decision that can do irreparable damage to a habitat is unconscionable," Abramoff said.

Becky Warner expressed worry for the precedent such a walkover adjacent to the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area could cause for other properties on the beach. Some condo boards have been lobbied in the past to construct walkovers to the beach, she said.

One speaker disagreed with the popular sentiment voiced against the walkover by the others. Thomas Breton said the birds should be protected in the critical wildlife area, but said "those birds are on private property," in regards to where the proposed dune walkover is.

According to state agency and court records on the matter, the area of water and vegetation where the proposed walkover would cross is not owned by the limited liabilities controlled by Kroemer and Rood.

Kroemer and Rood have been given conditional support through a state administrative law judge and the State Department of Environmental Protection for their walkover if the town council determines that the walkover complies with their code.



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