Thursday, October 12, 2006

Board approves development permit in Florida panther country

By Eric Staats
Thursday, October 12, 2006

The governing board of the South Florida Water Management District voted unanimously this morning to approve a revised permit for the controversial Mirasol golf course community in northern Collier County.

A coalition of environmental groups plans to file a legal challenge to the revised permit "very, very shortly,'' said Brad Cornell, Big Cypress policy advocate for Collier County Audubon Society and Audubon of Florida.

Mirasol is planned for up to 799 homes and two golf courses at the northwest corner of the intersection of Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard.

The water management district approved a permit for the project in 2002 that included a meandering shallow channel cut through wetlands. Project engineers, calling it a flowway, advertised it as a way to restore historic water flows. But the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the permit in 2005, citing the flowway as a concern.

The revised permit drops the flowway, which opponents call little more than a ditch, and instead creates a series of lakes to handle runoff within the project on its way to the Cocohatchee Canal and out to Wiggins Pass.

Environmental groups oppose the project because of its destruction of some 650 acres of wetlands, including foraging habitat for endangered wood storks that nest at nearby Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary.

"I'm just appalled they (the governing board) didn't even know what we were talking about, and they said so, so there you have it, a very poor result,'' Cornell said after today's vote.

Other environmental groups opposed to the Mirasol project are the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the National Wildlife Federation.

In return for the wetland impacts, the developer is proposing to preserve 830 acres of wetlands and 110 acres of uplands, remove melaleuca trees choking out the natural habitat, buy credits in a mitigation bank and restore 100 acres of Florida panther habitat.

Mirasol development partner Don Milarcik told the governing board that the project is good for Collier County and good for the environment.

"We're from this area (Southwest Florida) and we care about what we're doing there,'' he said. board_approves_mirasol_wetlands_permit/?latest

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