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Proposed ‘Eden Oaks’ development would destroy mangrove forest

A native, natural, flood-protecting plant species in Southwest Florida could be in danger of destruction to make way for residential development. Nearby neighbors and conservation groups are against the proposal and have issues with the plan for development that would forsake the natural environment.

An area where mangroves are in abundance could be the site for 55 new homes at the proposed “Eden Oaks” development in South Fort Myers.

“You’re going to be removing a critical environment that just can’t be replaced,” said Mary Tracy Sigman, who lives just south of the area in Palm Acres.

Sigman has noticed less fish swimming around her dock. She fears the proposed development will rip apart the ecosystem.

“Their breeding grounds have been diminished tremendously in the last few decades,” Sigman said.

Sigman doesn’t oppose development. But she is weighing the consequences that could come against the natural environment.

“We believe there are times when development is good and necessary,” Sigman said.

But people opposed don’t want to see the potential destruction of 37 acres of mangroves, which are a protected plant species in the state. But there are ways developers can still build on top of them by creating wetlands in another area. In this case, Little Pine Island is the proposed location.

“Miles away in a different watershed and different water body,” said Rae Ann Wessel, the natural resource policy director of Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation on Sanibel.

Wessel has fought the development in Lee County since 2011. But the landowner’s attorney, Rober Pritt, told us his client has scaled back on the original design to fit state recommendations.

Wessel has further technical issues with the proposal to create watershed space in Little Pine Island.

“You can’t filter the water upstream that needs to be filtered in the Caloosahatchee,” Wessel said.

The parcel of land sits off Shell Point Boulevard, north of McGregor Boulevard and north east of the Sanibel Causeway.

The Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Collier County also opposes the residential project. The organization plans to speak in front of officials in Lee County Wednesday during a rezoning hearing.

Sigman and her fellow homeowners say the price is too high to pay.

“That’s going to only exacerbate that bad water quality,” Sigman said. “And lowering the habitat just doesn’t make sense.”

Reporter:Janae Muchmore
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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