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Settlement Reached In Decade-Long Battle Over Collier Wetlands

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

A settlement has been reached between developers and a consortium of environmental organizations to provide restoration or preservation of more than 1,000 acres of wetland habitat in Northern Collier County. 

The settlement ends more than ten years of litigation over construction of Mirasol, a golf course community in North Naples which environmental advocates say would degrade the health of the Cocohatchee Slough.  The slough is a wetland flowway originating from the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. 

The deal with Mirasol’s developer sacrifices 550 acres of wetlands, but will preserve or restore more than 1,100 acres both on and off site.  “It’s a huge increase in preservation and restoration of wetlands and habitat especially for the endangered Wood Stork that nests at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary,” said Brad Cornell, a policy advocate for the Collier County Audubon Society.

Collier Audubon was joined by the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Audubon Florida and the National Wildlife Federation in negotiating the settlement with landowner IM Collier Joint Venture and developer Taylor Morrison, Inc.

Mirasol is one of three contiguous developments that would have built on 1,200 acres in the slough.  Settlements to preserve or restore wetlands associated with the other two developments were reached in 2010.

“On a regional basis, the three projects will preserve or restore over 3,500 acres of wetlands and habitat,” said Cornell.  “We feel like that’s a good outcome.”

Cornell says besides benefits like water supply and flood protection, preserving wetlands benefits endangered Wood Storks, whose nesting numbers have been down in recent years.  “In five of the past six nesting seasons there have been no chicks produced, no nests,” said Cornell.  “And Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is the largest nesting colony for this species in the United States.”

Cornell says the litigation process with these three developments has also shined a light on deficiencies in the wetland regulatory review process for both state and federal agencies when it comes to considering the importance of shallow seasonal wetlands, which Wood Storks in particular, need for foraging habitat.