Environmental Impacts of Rural Lands West

Where’s The Balance?

A recent Naples Daily News Editorial headline read: “New development typically draws objections, but let’s listen first.” (Editorial Board, Naples Daily News, USA TODAY NETWORK — Florida Published 5:14 p.m. ET May 5, 2018)

The Editorial Board extolled the virtue of listening, learning and understanding the facts about the proposed 45,000+ acres of development being proposed in eastern Collier County within the Rural Lands Stewardship Area (RLSA). The Conservancy of Southwest Florida could not agree more. However, ensuring that all the facts are available for citizens to come to their own conclusions is critical. In this case of this editorial, the developer provided answers to the environmental questions regarding the project’s proposed impacts.

The Conservancy is sharing with you our science-based assessment of Rural Lands West, in response to the same questions.

The Editorial Board asks:

Are woods being destroyed?

Conservancy response:

According to the recently issued South Florida Water Management District Environmental Resource Permit, 543 acres of wetlands will be directly impacted on the Rural Lands West site. Most of these wetland impacts could be avoided. In addition to direct impacts, the Conservancy is concerned with indirect impacts to wetlands and water resources including potential changes to water quality, as well as loss of seasonally-flooded lands that provide important wildlife habitat and floodwater storage.

The Editorial Board asks:

What about losing more agricultural land?

Conservancy response:

The majority of the Rural Lands West development footprint is within important agricultural areas that will be converted to development. In addition, the Eastern Collier Property Owners have applied for a federal incidental take permit (called a Habitat Conservation Plan, or HCP) that, if permitted, could result in over half of the currently existing agricultural lands within the HCP boundary — 43,515 acres — converted to new towns or villages over the next 50 years. This is in stark contrast to the stated goal of the RLSA, which is to protect environmentally sensitive lands, while retaining agricultural viability and allowing for development in a compact and sustainable manner.

The Editorial Board asks:

What about Florida panthers?

Conservancy response:

Rural Lands West (which Collier Enterprises has stated will be Phase 1 of other future development they will seek within the Big Cypress Stewardship District) will convert 3,100 acres of Primary Zone panther habitat to development, placing 10,000 new homes and over 2 million square feet of non-residential use in an area heavily utilized by the Florida panther and other wildlife. According to best available science (Kautz et al), the area defined as the Primary Zone is the minimum space to support a population that is barely viable as long as the habitat base remains stable. Additional habitat modeling science that focused on adult panther needs has confirmed that the Rural Lands West site –including farm field areas- are essential lands for panther survival and recovery (Frakes et al).

In addition to the direct impact to panther habitat through loss, fragmentation, and degradation, the Rural lands West project will likely adversely affect the prey base, increase the incidence of panthers getting hit by cars, intensify territorial disputes between panthers, increase human-wildlife interactions, and infringe upon a significant regional wildlife corridor.

Collier Enterprises:

They claim that panthers are “water shy” and that the proposed Rural Lands West lakes will act as a deterrent to discourage panthers from crossing and entering the development area.

Conservancy Response:

Panthers can swim. They’ve crossed the Caloosahatchee and are certainly capable of swimming across a ditch at Rural Lands West.

Florida black bear also currently utilize the Rural Lands West site and surrounding lands, and have also been documented to swim across waterways.

Keep in mind, too, the project site is also home to other imperiled listed species, including the Florida bonneted bat, crested caracara, wood stork, Big Cypress fox squirrel, and many types of bird species.

The Editorial Board asks:

Is the density too intense?

Conservancy Response:

Rural Lands West’s proposed density of 2.5 units per acre is similar to many of our urban subdivisions. The real question is not whether Rural Lands West’s density is too intense, but whether it is intense enough to create a compact, walkable community.

The Editorial Board asks:

Won’t this harm neighboring Golden Gate Estates’ rural lifestyle?

Conservancy Response:

The impacts of Rural Lands West and the proposed 45,000 acres of new towns and villages in the RLSA are going to be felt county-wide, not just in the neighboring Estates. For example, we know that development of Rural Lands West will require an extensive new road network, including the proposed Big Cypress Parkway. These roads are anticipated by the Metropolitan Planning Organization to cost approximately $190 million. How the cost will be absorbed by the developer, and what the cost to the public may be, remains to be seen. What also remains to be seen is how the urbanization of the RLSA will impact traffic and other quality of life considerations within our existing urban areas.

This editorial is a reminder that there is often more than one perspective on development projects, and in order to be informed, we must seek out all the relevant information in order to truly make informed decisions.

There is still an opportunity to weigh in on the Rural Lands West proposal.

To take action: https://www.conservancy.org/our-work/policy/action

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store