Don’t be fooled by the recent headline in the Naples Daily News entitled “Developer, environmental groups work out compromises over rural villages.” Agreeing to a few wildlife crossings and bear proof garbage cans is hardly reason to celebrate the location of these new proposed villages and town, located entirely in primary panther habitat in Eastern Collier County. Collier Enterprises’ offer to make minimal improvements, while milking Collier County taxpayers for tens of millions, is greenwashing at its finest.
The question that keeps resurfacing in public meetings is: how can one set of environmental groups be so positive and offer no opposition to such massive and poorly planned developments, while others are adamantly opposed to the location and design of these plans?
The answer is quite clear. A few environmental groups, including Audubon of the Western Everglades, Florida Wildlife Federation, and Defenders of Wildlife, entered into a 2008 “grand bargain” with landowners in the Rural Lands Stewardship Area (RLSA). The Conservancy of Southwest Florida was deeply involved in those negotiations, but chose, wisely, not to sign on. The agreement would have tied our hands and prevented our organization from ever challenging what we are seeing today — taxpayer subsidized communities, increased traffic congestion, and confused land use planning — all from developments in primary panther habitat.
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While the Conservancy has no contractual obligations that might hinder us from opposing inappropriate RLSA developments, these other environmental groups signed the agreement stating that they would avoid challenging the permits and authorizations needed for these developments. How can these same organizations, so closely tied to these developers, effectively negotiate for the environment? Setting aside other good work these groups clearly do, in the matter of the RLSA lands they are heavily conflicted.
The Conservancy has a long and distinguished history of helping balance the needs of a growing community while preserving core environmental assets and resources. We understand that negotiations can result in a good, or a bad deal. These proposed RLSA developments are clearly a bad deal. A good deal would involve designing towns and villages to be compact, walkable communities, as is required by law. A good deal would ensure that the developer pays for the cost of development, not transfer the burden to the taxpayer for subsidizing the costs of roads, infrastructure and services required in the eastern lands. A good deal would avoid primary panther habitat destruction. A good deal would not exacerbate traffic congestion.
Existing issues brought about by development have pushed the county into an infrastructure sales tax to pay for the backlog of county projects. If these new villages are approved, taxpayers will be expected to further subsidize landowners as they develop on environmentally sensitive lands — all with the active support of select environmental groups. The suggestion that these developments result in thousands of acres protected at no cost to county taxpayers is simply untrue. Much of these lands are already protected by the existing regulatory policies within the RLSA, and cannot be developed.
This is greenwashing at its finest. The slick PR and sales campaign by Collier Enterprises for the new Town of Big Cypress, is further evidence of the push to get the County Commission to approve these new villages.
Citizens of Collier County — make sure your voice is heard. Contact the County Commission to register your concerns. These massive, proposed developments will misdirect public resources for the benefit of a few private landowners in eastern Collier County. Visit www.conservancy.org to learn more about the facts and register your objection.
Rob Moher is the President & CEO for Conservancy of Southwest Florida.