Florida Audubon Lawsuit Statement

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“Florida Audubon Society filed a legal challenge on April 7, 2023 to the Town of Fort Myers Beach’s March 6 approval of an almost 300’ private bridge for beach access that our science staff determined will harm several nesting and migratory threatened shorebird and seabird species. Approved as a “special exception” within the Town’s Environmentally Critical Zoning District, the private bridge, called a “dune walkover,” would give only two private houses novel backdoor Gulf beach access at the expense of birds and other wildlife. All other houses in the Town without beachfront access use one of the Town’s 29 public beach accesses. Audubon’s expert – shorebird biologist and Southwest Florida Shorebird Stewardship Program Manager, Rochelle Streker – had testified in a quasi-judicial hearing before the Town Council that this bridge will increase human foot traffic right where threatened Snowy Plovers, Least Terns, Black Skimmers and Wilson’s Plovers nest and raise chicks. Streker explained to the Council that the construction of this structure and its subsequent use will significantly harm the ability of these species to produce young for the next generation of these iconic Florida birds.

The Town denied applications for this special exception bridge twice before, in November of 2019, and February of 2020, citing the harm it would cause the public beach, lagoons, and their wildlife, as well as the hazard to the neighboring public and private property posed by the storm debris created when such a vulnerable structure is destroyed. The Town Council, with two new members elected in November after Hurricane Ian’s devastation, paradoxically granted this unprecedented and ill-advised privilege for these applicants. This area has been designated within the Town’s Environmentally Critical Zoning District to reflect and respect the ever-changing, dynamic nature of this unique and sensitive coastal beach system, which makes the construction of permanent structures unwise and environmentally harmful.

“Florida Audubon Society is challenging this approval to protect the wildlife and habitat in and near the Little Estero Island Critical Wildlife Area and prevent any precedent for more such structures in the Environmentally Critical Zone and Critical Wildlife Area,” said Julie Wraithmell, President of Florida Audubon Society. “This beach and its threatened wildlife belong to all Floridians and allowing two private landowners to harm it comes at the expense of the public trust, neighboring properties in Fort Myers Beach, and the local economy.”

For more than 12 years, Audubon has partnered with the Town of Fort Myers Beach, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and local Audubon chapters, to monitor, research and protect hundreds of threatened coastal birds every year. Audubon employs several staff and over 65 trained volunteers in this work. There are only two places in all of Southwest Florida that host this level of shorebird and seabird nesting and migratory visitation. Most coastal locations have been heavily impacted by coastal development, beach erosion, recreational conflicts, predators drawn by feeding and trash, and will decline further from climate impacts.”

 

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