Has The South End of Fort Myers Beach Become Poison?

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Some bird enthusiasts on Fort Myers Beach say there are “major conservation issues on the south end of Fort Myers Beach.” Residents who live on the south end say they’re doing everything they can to protect nesting shorebirds while also protecting their property rights.

It all got a little heated when MERTF Chairman Steve Johnson used the word “poison” when talking about the south end.

At the June Marine Environmental Resources Task Force meeting, Johnson read a letter from FWC Southwest Regional Species Conservation Biologist Rebecca Schneider who said FWC has “experienced a lack of understanding and unreasonable resistance from the community.” Schneider was looking to MERTF for help “protecting your natural resources.”

The use of the words “unreasonable resistance” peaked our interest so we reached out to Schneider to ask her to be more specific about her accusations of “unreasonable resistance.” She did not respond to our request.

This apparently has to do with allegations of bird monitors being yelled at and signs near the roped off nesting areas being pulled out. At least that’s what people are telling us off the record. Nobody has been able to offer us any proof that this took place or who may have done what is being claimed.

At the MERTF meeting, Johnson followed his reading of Schneider’s e-mail with the comment that the “Southern end of the Island is starting to poison itself against everything conservation oriented and I think that’s a big problem.” He followed it up with, “I don’t know if there’s a way we can help this poison from spreading on the South End of the Island.” In addition to the situation with the birds, Johnson also lumps Eddie Rood and Kurt Kroemer’s dune walkover into his accusations that the south end is against conservation.

We pressed Johnson on who he was referring to on the south end that is against conservation. In an e-mail to Beach Talk Radio Thursday Johnson said, “There was never an individual, a property owner, nor condominium named nor faulted for causing any issues but the problem remains. We aren’t really sure who they are. I just don’t want to lump everyone together.” Johnson reiterated on the phone with us Thursday that there’s an impression that the southern end of the island is against conservation. We jostled back and forth a bit about what he said. He made the accusation about the south end but didn’t provide proof of who it was or evidence of what was happening.

And, for the record, there’s also an impression with some residents on the south end that the MERTF committee has gotten too radical. They want more balance on the committee.
Committee member Jennifer Rusk took it one step further at the MERTF meeting. “These people are buying this property not thinking anything of the environment. People come here and they’re thinking beach and bars and making money off of the rentals.”

The people who live in condos on the south end beg to differ. Island’s End, Castle Beach and Carlos Pointe have an agreement with FWC that allow for the private property areas of their beach to be roped off, for 6 months, to accommodate the birds.

Castle Beach President Sharon Hegstrom says Castle Beach has allowed FWC to rope off their beach for six months for the past 18 years. “That means we cannot use the beach and we have rentals who stay at Castle Beach who want to do that. In addition the roping off causes thousands of sand spurs to grow and ruins our beachfront for weeks after the birding season is over. Last year we were informed we would need to pay for a bird monitor for the entire season even though FWC instigated this program and supported it financially up until this time.”

Condo HOA’s have been told that FWC is planning to charge thousands of dollars in fees if the condo’s want to rake the beach back to it’s pre-bird-nesting status.

Back in 2022, during a presentation to the MERTF committee, Schneider said FWC returns the private beach that they took over to monitor the birds “the way we found it, if not better.” Schneider went on to say that the beach is groomed by the property owners, using mechanical treatment to reduce growth, which attracts the birds year after year. She added we support that grooming because it’s the only place where the birds are able to nest.

Hegstrom wonders how FWC got so much control of their land? “It makes no sense. That sand wasn’t even there before Tropical Storm Gabriel brought it to us in 2001. But the government seems to be taking control of it. We pay the taxes on and take care of it and allow the birding which is not always easy.”

New FWC imperiled-bird nesting regulations go into effect on September 1st. The new regulations include how much money property owners will now have to pay to return their beaches to pre-nesting condition. Fees that property owners never had to pay before after allowing the government agency to come on their private property to rope off the beaches. FWC did not make the new regulations easy to understand. If you’d like to give it a try, the 77-page document is HERE.

A series of e-mails between Town Councilman John King and MERTF Chair Steve Johnson reveals how heated the debate about the south end is becoming. King told Johnson he was extremely disheartened by the tone, tenor and rhetoric used by the members of the committee. “Not once, but twice you used the word “POISON” in describing the residents of the South End in what you said was a “Big Problem.” That problem was FWC accusing people of removing signs and allegedly confronting FWC representatives. I’m not condoning any attacking behavior, but I seriously doubt there are landowners doing this. I don’t believe there are any owners at their residences at Island’s End, Carlos Pointe and Castle Beach as they have not been certified for occupancy.” King said MERTF committee members owe the residents on the south end an apology.

Johnson responded that he was sorry King took offense with his use of the word poison. “I can tell you that this noun is a very descriptive word used in the context of the discussion to describe the general mood toward conservation on the geographically southern end of the island. Due in part to the ongoing boardwalk conflict as residents take up sides. The discussion began due to an unsolicited communication sent to the Chair from the FWC Species Conservation Biologist looking for help due to “a lack of understanding and unreasonable resistance from the community”. No one was called poison, the situation is poison as it is fatal to the ecology in question.”

Island Winds President Dave Nusbaum also took offense to the use of the word poison and let the town council know that in an e-mail. “I strongly disagree with Mr. Johnson’s statement. The condominiums on the south end continue to work to find a balance between nature and the property owners rights. We have stated that fact again and again, in correspondence with the Town, MERTF and government agencies. We are not a “poison”….. but we are property owners trying to find a balance with nature, to preserve our backyards and maintain them to be the driving force of the town’s economy.”

40 COMMENTS

  1. What if these bird watchers are just making up how many rare/endangered species of birds they see? What if they are like fishermen…that bass was not 12 inches, it was three…it’s too much government, too many little people having a little power making it difficult for many people…

    FMB…take back your beach before it’s too late! Fill in that swamp land! FMB needs all the beach front/beautiful beaches they can get…do we see any other savvy beach communities allowing these silly government small people dictate to ty what they are doing? The beach only looks like this due to Ian, that beach needs repaired back to a deep beach front community…for the economic recovery. Get rid of swamp land on prime beach front…it’s nonsense.

  2. I just read this article. I am a home owner on the south end on the beach. I would like to address the “poison” statement in the article…
    I got back to FMB late March to begin repairs on house. On April 19 at 5:45AM, 2 Lee County officers banged on our Plywood front door awakening my wife and I. We immediately noticed the flashing police lights and RAN down stairs expecting there was a problem, fire, burglary, etc… Upon approaching the 2 officers with 2 cars flashing their lights, they asked if I were Martin McLoughlin. I said Yes, and they said they have a “summons” for me. I asked, “Summons for what”?
    “For an FWC violation” the officer said.
    I asked, “What violation?”
    “Thats all we know sir, its a violation from an FWC officer.”
    I then inquired, “You are Lee County officers, why are you delivering it and why at 5:45 in the morning?”
    “It says here that you have been evasive, so they turned over the summons issuing to Lee county enforcement agency. We saw the cars in front and figured you were here.”

    The officers said the summons was issued in December 2022 and it was now April 19. (I left FMB in early Nov 2022 and just got back late March 2023…) We had a short conversation with the officers. The Lee County officers were extremely professional, understanding, and apologetic. Doing their job! And I think I speak for most of us down here when I say, we appreciate their presence now more than ever with the island being so dark and empty at night.

    After multiple attempts, I eventually found out that I was being charged with stepping over the ropes into the nesting areas?? Which I have never done. But, after reading the police report, there was very specific references to multiple confrontations, with crude language, to both the FWC biologists and FWC officer. Now I cannot confirm if these confrontations did or did not occur. But, I can say with 100% ABSOLUTE certainty that it was NOT with me. However, this may be the “poison” they are alluding to in their statement..
    In the FWC police incident report, the officer stated that the subject, “a white, large, bald headed man”, (I have a full head of hair) walked off in the direction of my house and disappeared behind the mangrove bushes. Which are approxinately 250′ from my house. As some of you may know, the main beach access point for about 25 houses on the south end beach (seperated from the beach by a lagoon) not to mention access for the neighborhood across Estero Blvd, is located DIRECTLY behind my house.. Thru the mangrove bushes at the narrowest and shallowest section of the lagoon.. Literally utilized by dozens sometimes 100’s of people daily. Those of you living down south end are probably quite familiar.

    The subject apparently using this beach access point, prompted the officer to issue a summons. In his report, he states that he drove his car around to front of my house, and looked up who was the owner. That was his basis for issueing a summons to me. (Also claiming he confirmed with my driver license picture) I am not even close to bald or balding..
    Anyway, just beware that the FWC is looking for reasons to send out violations to home owners on the beach. Truth be dammed..
    Sadly, after three trips to the Lee county court house, dozens of emails, and far too many hours, it just became a nuisance and waste of time to try to resolve. Not to mention, the exculpatory Body cam footage, which would have 100% exonerated me, was “no longer available”???
    So, I decided to pay the $250 fine with NO ADMISSION of guilt, as it became apparent the only option was to spend thousands of dollars and 100’s more hours. Very bitter and sour experience with our justice system

    • The question is, even though you’re tired of hearing about it, what is your position about the walkover that restores 11 beach front homes access to the beach? What is your opinion about the beach front property owners property rights?

  3. The double edged sword.
    If the majority wants any elected servant in Florida recalled, you only have to wait until the “servant” has held the position 1/4th of their term.
    Removing someone is easier than most people realize. Vote on it after you collect signatures on a referendum for recall. Then you have to replace the servant with another by votes.

  4. Sometimes I think the birds are smarter than the people. Perhaps a lack of nesting birds is a result that the birds can’t find any fish to eat because the red tide killed them all. I also wonder if anyone’s noticed that the sand quality at the south end has been ruined because of the hurricane perhaps we should blame God.

    • Listen to one of their meetings, the entire meeting, and you will really want the committee disbanded. Most murder trials are shorter in duration than their meetings.

    • Disagree, MERTF has a vital function, but it monitors the beach and MERTF should be made up of beach front property owners that know and understand the needs of the beach, not people that rent or don’t even live on the island.

      • Mr Rood
        Do you know if this committee is involved with any dredging issues? We on the south end have been pushing for dredging to occur in the natural areas of the lagoon and the channel to the bay. We believe that this is also an environmentally crucial area as those natural waters are home to many varieties of wildlife. I am told that the sludge and debris in the waters will choke off sea grass taking away valuable food sources from manatees.

  5. So, why don’t they designate an area on Lovers Key SP for a nesting area. Designate and manage it the way you want it, year around. Instead of invading privately owned land.

    • Excellent idea. Enough with the birds AND Turtles taking over beachfront property we all Work our asses off to own!

      • I’d love to buy on FMB…but who would want the headache? They are devaluing private property and charging fake taxes, these houses are not ocean front, they need to charge ocean view taxes…get rid of these areas and the conservation wackos will leave…I’m from Ohio, I wouldn’t be able to tolerate placing animals lives above humans…lovers key is literally visible from this area, that’s isn’t enough conservation area…it’s nonsense.

        People with no skin in the fight are arguing to keep this area a mess??? This stuff doesn’t happen where I come from, we mind our business. I don’t understand why home owners and the community leaders would allow this to happen? To allow this area to get so out of control and unsightly…there’s so much preserve all over Florida, it’s all mangroves. Why in this spot??? It’s a few people with too much power. It’s nonsense.

        Who would let this happen?

  6. The property owners and residents of the south end are not divided over the walkover as suggested in this article. The walkover has almost 100% support from the entire south end as the residents know this area better than anyone and understand the need and how the walkover helps protect the area. The division is between the south end property owners and the FWC that is fueled by the continuous rhetoric from Audubon and committee members of MRTF and their influence on the FWC. MRTF members are appointed by the Town council and should support the decisions of the council members that appointed them but the MRTF members have aligned themselves with Audubon and seem to be in support of the Audubon’s lawsuit against the Town. This is a severe conflict of interest when you have an appointed group and they have taken the side of a third party that is suing the Town they are serving. I am in constant communication with practically everyone on the south end and know their pulse. The Audubon and a handful of people are fueling this divide. Individuals appointed by the Town council that purposely undermine the Town’s intent and align themselves with the opposition filing lawsuits against the Town should be asked to resign.
    In order for the property owners and the FWC to coexist peacefully there has to be a common goal and that is not going to happen with the constant rhetoric spewed from the Audubon and Town appointed individuals attempting to constantly undermining our private property rights.

    • GOVT overreach is out of control –
      EPA has been slapped down , all these locals “not for profits” need to be slapped down and understand their role and place as support – enough of the Nanny state –
      I would never consider myself an environmentalist – enough with the virtual signaling . Life is about individuals and the millions of decisions and actions they take daily – People who need Rules and regulations for everything are the problem –

      • I agree, there needs to be a change in the appointees and chair person of MERTF. Labeling property owners with names is very irresponsible and damaging for any future progress. Not to mention these people aligning themselves with an organization that is bringing lawsuits against the Town. I think that is the definition of treason?

  7. Without balance, this committee and its focus is far too narrow sighted and lacks objectivity regarding the Island, the environment and its general well-being. FMB is nine months into recovering from a devastating and catastrophic Hurricane Ian. Homes and businesses have been destroyed. Empty lots are everywhere. Rebuilding hasn’t even begun yet. The Island has essentially been destroyed. The tax base took a beating. People’s lives have been torn apart, homeowners are living in tents, RVs and hotel rooms or displaced and living elsewhere. Birds, turtles, nature and the environment are vitally important to all of us but for crying out loud, there are also other critically important issues at hand. How about a little balance and common sense? Without common sense and balance the vitriol and narrow sightedness of this committee is as much of a “poison” as the south-enders they singled out.

  8. If there is a poison mood, there is a quick way to stop it. Brad Cornell of the Audubon Society should drop his lawsuit against the Town of Fort Myers Beach, so resident’s tax dollars are not used to pay lawyers to fight Mr. Cornell’s personal opinions of this dune walkover that has been permitted by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

  9. It is an interesting issue. The south end or large sandy area is loaned to the bird people for seasonal nesting and now they want to take control of it throughout the year. I find that this year there seemed to be very few birds and they actually had to put decoys out to attract the birds.
    I doubt that the birds can be attracted to an area with decoys. I would also suggest this is not natural. The birds are more resilient than we are made to believe. I thought they had the designated are for wildlife already designated but now they want more. I wonder why they wouldn’t take over parts of the beach on lovers key to help the birds nest and they can decoy them there. Controlled access and fewer people as opposed to Estero Island.

    • All these comittees and town council should be limited to one term. When they stay for multiple terms they start building too many relationships and back room deals are easy. Look at the BS lawsuit against TPI being able to build. Look at Bateman Construction that was the most expensive bid to do the work on Estero and they were NOT qualified and did a horrible job yet they won the bid for that. Who selected them? How about these turtle lights that were 3x as much cost but during a time when our island is destroyed and that is a prioroty??? All these groups, committees and council need to serve one term and then they are out.

  10. I agree with the previous comments very well written. Thank you for presenting both sides of this volatile issue. I have recently seen some posts popping up on the Nextdoor app, and I didn’t understand where they were coming from but now I do. It saddens me when people use social media to fuel fear rather than encourage a civilized discourse on these issues.

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