Audubon Files Lawsuit Against Town Over Dune Walkover

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On the last possible day to file, The Florida Audubon Society has filed a lawsuit against the Town of Fort Myers Beach and Fort Myers Beach homeowners Eddie Rood and Kurt Kroemer, in an attempt to stop the construction of the dune walkover behind their homes.

The Audubon is alleging that the Town Council ignored its own staff and did not follow the rules of its own charter by approving the walkover.

When John King and Karen Woodson ran for Town Council they made it clear they wanted the walkover issue to go away. They wanted the town to stop spending money on the issue and they wanted to avoid any future lawsuits. There was also a question of whether a walkover actually disturbs wildlife as the Audubon has been saying. The Council now had three votes, including Mayor Dan Allers, to approve Rood and Kroemer’s request. It was first brought before the Local Planning Agency, which approved it 6-1, then brought back in front of the council and approved 3-2 in March.

Rood and Kroemer are in a court battle with the state of Florida to determine who owns the land behind their homes which is where a Critical Wildlife Area sits. They claim they once had access to the beach from their homes and through shifting of the CWA land over time, they lost that access. They have also threatened the town with a Bert Harris lawsuit if they were not granted a special exception to build the 293 foot wooden walkover.

In the lawsuit the Florida Audubon states that “the proposed bridge/dune walkover will significantly harm imperiled listed species of migratory and nesting shore and seabirds, and their habitats, which are adjacent and near to this proposed structure.”

Despite being given an opportunity to state their case before the Town Council last month, which turned the council meeting into a courtroom, the Audubon still decided to file the lawsuit. Now the town finds itself in the position of spending money to defend their position of allowing the walkover to be approved.

Rood and Kroemer, who are also named in the lawsuit, were hoping to start construction of the walkover after Turtle nesting season later this year. Audubon lawsuit throws a monkey wrench into that plan. In the suit Audubon states that the constantly changing nature of the beach and dune system supports keeping the dune free of fixed structures. “While the applicants’ counsel stressed “the unique” nature of this dune, that unique nature makes the project inappropriate. That very accretional change is an important reason why the construction of a fixed boardwalk structure is environmentally harmful.”

Audubon states that the Town Council’s approval of the dune walkover was done so without any competent, substantial evidence. “While the Town’s Resolution of approval included the lone, conclusory statement that the request will protect, conserve, or preserve environmentally critical areas and natural resources, there was no competent substantial evidence introduced at the quasi-judicial hearing to support that statement. Audubon and its partners have invested more than $100,000 and organizational resources in this Lee Shorebird Stewardship Program, and the construction of the proposed structure would compromise its research and conservation efforts and investment in protecting these imperiled wildlife species and their habitats.”

Southwest Florida Policy Associate for Audubon Florida Brad Cornell told us if the Audubon was going to file a lawsuit they would do so with a press release as well. There was no press release issued last Friday, only the filing which was done on the 30th day of the 30 day window anyone could object to the council approving the special exception.

The next step is for the town to the Audubon lawsuit which you can read HERE.

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