Coastal Conservation

Town of Fort Myers Beach Rebukes Latest Attack on Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area

Fort Myers Beach once again voted to protect critical habitat against the efforts of local property owners to build a boardwalk across state conservation lands at the edge of bird nesting and wintering grounds.

At the August 17 Council meeting, the Town of Fort Myers Beach voted 3-2 to turn down an offer to settle a threatened property devaluation lawsuit by two out-of-state rental property owners. 

Led by Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros and two new councilors, Jim Atterholt and Bill Veach, the Council upheld two previous Council votes in November 2019 and February 2020. The votes affirm Town policies that prohibit private structures – such as the proposed 300 foot private bridge and boardwalk over public tidal lagoons  across state waters and adjacent to State-designated Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area (CWA). 

The CWA was established in 1992 to protect imperiled nesting shorebirds and seabirds, including threatened Black Skimmers, Least Terns, Snowy Plovers, Piping Plovers, and Red Knots.  Many Town residents and Audubon staff and volunteers who urged the Council to continue to protect this unique habitat were deeply appreciative of the refusal to compromise the Town's rules protecting the nature of these wonderful resources – which are also a foundation of the town’s tourist appeal and property values.

While the rental house owners claimed they own the CWA land and the Town's refusal to grant them permission to build the bridge would devalue their properties, the Council's 3-2 vote affirmed the position that the property is public and the rules were clear, thus causing them no additional impact.  Also, Audubon's Shorebird Stewardship manager and biologist Adam DiNuovo shared evidence of the Critical Wildlife Area lagoons being fully tidal and connected to the Gulf, which confirms the land belongs to the State, not the rental houses. 

This was a big victory for many coastal species and the habitat they need, surrounded by a rapidly growing region. Local government ordinances like this one are critical to preserving the health of our beaches, to benefit people and wildlife alike.

We know this will not be the last effort of the homeowners to threaten the CWA or attempt to bully the Town, and we encourage all Council members to continue to protect these fragile coastal lands from improper development. The beauty of the beaches of Fort Myers Beach is due in no small part to the wisdom of the Town’s protective ordinances and their history of defending them from short-sighted challenges prioritizing self-interest over the public interest.

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