By a vote of 3-2 on Monday the Fort Myers Beach Town Council voted to approve a special exception for Estero Boulevard homeowners Eddie Rood and Kurt Kroemer to build a 293 foot wooden walkover from their homes to the beach. The approval did not come without an interesting twist.
During public comment Southwest Florida Policy Associate for Audubon Florida Brad Cornell threatened that Audubon is considering filing a lawsuit against the town if they approved the walkover. It would be similar to the lawsuit Chris Patton filed against the town when she tried to stop TPI from building Margaritaville, claiming the town did not follow proper policies and procedures in approving the project.
Cornell wanted the town to grant Audubon party status in the matter. Town attorney John Herin recommended the town grant Audubon party status, which they did. Herin argued that if Audubon did file a lawsuit against the town a judge would look favorably on the fact that the town gave Audubon every possible chance to state its case. And that case was that building a dune walkover would be detrimental to nesting shorebirds in the Critical Wildlife Area.
For about an hour the town council meeting was transformed into a courtroom with Cornell questioning town staff (which has repeatedly recommended denial) and an Audubon shorebird expert. That was followed up by questions from Rood and Kroemer’s attorney Seth Behn who tried to debunk their theory that the walkover would negatively impact the birds.
Councilman Bill Veach, who’s consistently opposed the walkover, appeared concerned at the possible cost of an Audubon lawsuit against the town being that it would not be covered by insurance. However, he never raised concerns about how much a threatened Bert Harris lawsuit might cost taxpayers if that were filed by Rood and Kroemer.
Councilman John King tripped up Town Attorney John Herin when he asked him how much this matter has already cost taxpayers. Herin told King the cost was less than $10,000. King said a public document request he made as a town council candidate showed that the bill was over $104,000. Herin is expected to be replaced as the town’s attorney within a few months as the council opts for someone who’s more local. Herin resides on the East coast of Florida.
We asked Cornell if, even after being granted party status Monday where he stated his case, he planned to file a lawsuit against the town. He said, “we’re considering it.”
In the end the final vote was 3-2 in favor of approving the walkover. Rood promised he would drop all lawsuits that are now active, including one he filed against the state of Florida to try to prove he owned the property behind his home where the CWA sits.
Commenting on the approval, Rood told Beach Talk Radio that since October of 2019, there have been 17 elected or appointed officials who have voted in favor of the special exception and only 5 who have voted against it. “Over 3 times as many for it as against it. That is a powerful statement. Of the votes against it, all 5 were lobbied by the Audubon which lost all their lawsuits against Kurt and me. Seems the Audubon and these 5 have been on the wrong side of this issue and that’s why justice prevailed. Special Interests should not be able to influence town officials to the point of voting to deny island residents their rights.”
Kroemer added that Councilman John King expressed it well when he said the opinions on this issue have become very personal on both sides. “I believe when the opinions are taken out of the equation, the council’s decision to approve the special exception was correct. My neighbor, Eddie Rood has done an incredible job informing and educating the facts of this project to the incoming LPA and Council members who did not have prior or preconceived opinions. They gave approval based on the requirements of the Special Exception process. We look forward to getting our beach access back.”
Rood and Kroemer have argued for years that due to the shifting of the CWA they lost direct access to the beach from the rear of their homes. Local bird enthusiasts have said the walkover will be a disruption to the birds and other wildlife in the CWA.